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Forget euphemisms! The word is old -- now get used to it

Another birthday and suddenly I'm old. We're talking big numbers here -- 76 is unquestionably old. We can use euphemisms like "over the hill, " "long in the tooth" or "senior citizen." But why bother? "Old" is OK. The word "old" was forbidden in my lexicon. It used to be a taboo, a curse word. Well-bred, decent people didn't use the term in polite conversation. If said kindly, with a slight tilt of the head, one could get away with dubbing elder, aged, weathered. But, for me, old is OK.

That's precisely why the term The Third Third was chosen, in hopes of analyzing what these later years are all about and, thus, maximizing them. To paraphrase that wise guy Plato, an unexamined life is not worth living. At this age, when the evening shadows are lengthening, doing daily activities requires more consideration. We limit our comings and goings; whom we choose to love and to like; how, with an eye-dropper, we want to mete out the remaining active days. It's my firm conviction and sincere belief that those who live in fear of the approaching ultimate end are the very ones who waste their days in nongratifying pursuits.

Precious time off In child-raising, house-bound, part-time working years, my body dragged into bed at night. Living in northern New Jersey, I treated myself to a monthly Wednesday Mom's day out on the town -- New York, New York. After shopping, theater matinee and sightseeing, I'd rest on the bus ride home and return to embrace my family invigorated and enthusiastic.

The theory was then born that carpe diem, seizing the day for enjoyment, was important to function in the chores of mundane living. It's as true today as in youth that finding the best potential in every situation is the closest we can bring ourselves to "happiness." We are programmed through the first third of life by parents and community standards developed to protect the vulnerable child and guide him or her to adulthood. The second third of life is the time to produce. We regenerate biologically.

We build bridges, deliver mail or try to find a cure for cancer. Enjoying our decline After those accomplishments -- some do them in short order (with a good pension plan), some extend the dynamic years -- we are free to indulge in the sheer joys of life, each according to our dreams. With so much experience, we eliminate what we are not interested in and what we still wish to taste in the remaining time allotted to us. At this juncture, we have done all the woulds, coulds and shoulds.

Now we can allow ourselves to decline easily, slowly. We have learned to not sweat the small stuff. We can laugh at ourselves. We have lowered our expectations of ourselves and others. We've spent so much of our time, and we value what there is left. We respect our body and rue past neglects. The same goes for money. We can indulge in that daily 4 o'clock martini. A sudden cloudburst to cool a hot afternoon is viewed as a gift, as is a surprise telephone call from a faraway friend.

The sight of a child playing fetch with a dog brings a smile, as does finishing the crossword puzzle. We're likely to find the spiritual in the ordinary. A casual snooze (we can't yet admit to taking a nap) is a newfound pleasure. And deciding to order in pizza instead of cooking dinner is quite all right. The joy of survival We're feeling less weighted down with the petty annoyances of yesterday.

Que sera sera. We no longer carry around the smelly load of garbage with timeworn grudges, angers, suspicions or impossible expectations which used to slow us down and impede our view of the sheer joy of survival. Old is a new age. And exploring the frontiers is challenging, particularly when we can, pretty much, write our own script. Sometimes we expend energy pursuing lost youth that prevents us from enjoying old age. Why deny age? Why defy it? Just enjoy. In the spirit of 76, it's not so bad being here. If this is what old is, I'll take more -- as much as I can have.