In or Out of The Game after 70?

I was watching The Crown yesterday while eating my usual and customary lunch apple. A line from the script grabbed my attention. It was spoken by the frail and apparently dying sister of Admiral Mountbatten as she languished in her bed. She and her brother were commiserating their regrets at having lived past their prime. She said something like…

“When I turned 70, I began to realize that I was no longer a participant or player, but instead was becoming a spectator.”

And so I put that up here so that I’ll remember to come back–maybe a few times–to add my thoughts about this. And I’d wonder if this was at all resonant with any readers that might wander here and read this writing prompt.

Do feel free to leave comments from your own experience. You don’t have to 70 or more to have an opinion. So looking forward or looking back, what are your thoughts?

Why do I think this statement got my attention?

This statement made me think about the roles I play now, at 75, compared to those purposes, duties, and relationships I had in the wider world that my life centered around during my years of employment, civic engagement and active “folk writing”, book publishing and public speaking.

I don’t see “becoming a spectator” as capitulation or a sign of defeat and marginalization, of aging-out of life. I also don’t deny that my level of energy and time spent “in the game” are some fraction of what those hours once totaled.

And I attribute that de-escalation of involvement with both choice and biology.

Even before COVID closed up shop here in small town America, I had pulled back from involvement in town-and-county organizational involvement, partly to give younger people with a longer future at stake an opportunity to become involved as my short future frankly makes me have less at stake, you might say.

Local non-profits in the county all suffer from retirement-aged staffing of boards and committees. Bring in the next younger generation of hikers, naturalists, gardeners and pipeline fighters. I’m stepping back but not out.

With regard to the biological causes

An aging brain, bones and muscles make me more content to watch than to play: the older corpus just does not have the staying power it once did. The mitochondria are not so mighty anymore. The collagen of ligaments and tendons (not to mention the saggy skin that comes as a free benefit) is not as resilient for awkward garden-zen postures as it once was. The muscle mass is a muscle mess, having once been into body building and fitness, now into relative sloth, lassitude and flabbiness. The pity.


In that, after 70 (or some actuarily determined even younger age) the biological risk of injury from falls increases, as does the risk from illness (any of the organ systems can get their turn to go out with a whimper; or a bang.) These causes might easily take a 70 year old player off the field and park them in the stands for the duration. I saw my share of side-lined life-players in my physical therapist years. Some gave up right away. Some struggled and became players again.

To the degree that genetics or shared life environment in childhood matters, my mother was going full tilt when she died a year ago at a few months short of 97. Still had all her teeth; wore reading glasses only; and drove herself to BoJangles if she didn’t like what they were having at the Home any given day.

So as a good friend admonishes me: act like you’ll be around for at least another 10 years. Gravity of the world (both for the mass of the chain saw and the weight of heavy news by the ton) will continue to be challenges. But a player adapts.

So if I have another decade of use of my hands and feet, eyes and reason, which work do I want to do? And where do I just want to watch and learn?

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I am now 85 years old, and remaining a player by continuing research that was begun before joining the ranks of the semi-retired. Being a player or spectator is a choice one needs to make. I have enjoyed remaining a player while having time for other activities.