The Wonder of an 80th Birthday  

Anyone watching the news the last few days has to marvel about the wonders of highly achieving people hitting that once shocking age of 80.

There’s the new heroine astronaut Wally Funk, who at 82 years old on Tuesday morning, July 20, became the oldest person ever to fly in space — the fulfillment of a lifelong dream in her long career as a pilot and four times NASA astronaut nominee.

And then there is Georgetowner Nancy Pelosi, who at 81 is the only woman to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives —and a feisty one at that, who continually challenges long traditions of Congress.

But Pelosi is not the oldest member of Congress. In fact, there are five senators and 11 Congressional representatives over the age of 80 in the 117th Congress; three are 87: Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Dan Young (R-Alaska), Dean of the House.

Another longtime Georgetown resident Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is 82.

Reaching 80 years old is both a humbling and awesome — as the kids say — life event. I know. I don’t usually write about myself, but please allow an exception this time to share my experience in early July celebrating this milestone 80th birthday with my identical twin in our hometown of Santa Barbara California, where I lived for 55 years and she still lives. It was a day filled with unexpected joy, wonder and utter gratitude.

My twin and I had been planning our pending birthday for almost a year via email with some trepidation and disbelief! HOW could we be 80 years old?  Should we host a garden tea party with 20 or so of our oldest gal friends, many of whom were just beginning to emerge from isolated homes, masks and fears of COVID?  Would they come — with canes and wheelchairs, gray and aged and sad from all the struggles and losses of the past year? Would they even eat the luscious cakes (chocolate for me, vanilla for my twin; that was our tradition) and sandwiches that we were preparing for the tea?  My sister, a graphic artist, designed beautiful invitations on paper! These we sent by mail for the few friends who didn’t do email well.

Now, I am still glowing from the party. The ladies came in hats and dresses, looking good with some fancy walking sticks. All arrived with big smiles, hugs, kisses and utter joy to be there.

“Isn’t it incredible!” they all said. “Here we are! We made it! To 80! Still recognizable, full of lessons learned, blocks gone round many times, interested in life and love and eager to see what is next. Aren’t we lucky! Isn’t it amazing to be together again. To remember our long lives still going on. Looking ahead to what life brings next whatever it may be. To be joyful in our friendships and long connections.”

And they happily gobbled up all the cakes and sandwiches.

The overall attitude was gratitude! Our mantra for troubled times: “This too shall pass. Everything changes. Be flexible in mind and as much as possible in body.”

It’s no wonder that we 80-somethings fully understand the exuberance and also criticism of Wally Funk after she landed from her 11-minute flight into space this week. 

“I loved every minute of it,” Funk said. “I just wish it could have been longer …  in zero gravity … to do a lot more rolls and twists and so forth. I want to go again. Fast!”



One comment on “The Wonder of an 80th Birthday  ”

  • Nancy Flinn says:

    Peggy – I turned 80 in April. In August I am hosting Nancy Flinn ‘s “Extravaganza “ – a celebration of 80 years – so far 82 family and friends are coming to the party in Vermont.
    (This is in lieu of a funeral)

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