While waiting for the orchestra to start playing the overture to Gounod's Faust, I mused on the character Faust.
He sold his soul to Mephistopheles in order to regain his youth. I then wondered if I would do that and inadvertently shook my head hard for a silent but emphatic no. A foolish philosopher! But the overture started and blotted out my idle thought.
On 30 January this year I turned seventy, and I am content. I also have a clear sense that I have arrived at a crucial turning point in my life. Thirty came and went without my notice. Forty and fifty also swept by me as though I had never left my thirties. Sixty is special in the Far East because it completes the cycle in the Chinese calendar (composed of 10 celestial stems and 12 terrestrial branches combined in pairs); so, a new life that starts at sixty-one. But sixty passed by and I was hardly aware of it. But when I reached seventy, I felt I was launching on a new life. Suddenly, I feel old but at the same time replenished. I am at ease with myself as I have never been before. It may have to do with the fact that I retired a year and a half ago.
The words of Confucius in the Analects come to my mind. In Book Two, he wrote (in my translation):
The Master said:
At fifteen, I was eager to learn.
At thirty, I was on solid ground.
At forty, I had no doubts.
At fifty, I knew the laws of heaven.
At sixty, I heard and obeyed them.
At seventy, I could follow my heart's desire without bending what was right.
I do, indeed, follow my heart's desire, I do. Would I ever want to be young again? No, absolutely not. What a fool of a philosopher Faust was! For me, lifelong journey of learning was fulfilling but never easy; it was always uphill and steep. I still have more to learn, of course, about the world and, most of all, about living a happy life, but the slope is decidedly gentler past the critical mark at seventy. So, I am content.
"But that's easy for you to say; you live comfortably," I can hear my aging friends say. True, my means are modest but secure, and I do, above all, have my health; and I keep myself busy with what I truly like to do and do it to my heart's content. After all, in this age of longevity, seventy is only just past the midlife crisis. I have occasional pains and inevitable bouts of loneliness ever since the death of my companion; but I have learned to manage them. To be sure, I may feel differently ten years from now, or, God forbid, even sooner, if I find myself racked with insufferable pain and illness. I am in no doubt that sooner or later I will be physically incapacitated since I intend to live to 100. But I am confident that one can follow one's hearts desire even then. In the meantime, I feel good to be seventy.
T. Kaori Kitao, 04.01.03