Turning 50 for me was no big deal; a hop, skip, and a jump into a slightly older middle age.
Reaching 60 was a minor hurdle, with a bit more thought given to aging.
But septuagenarian? Well, let’s just say it was a mental pole vault — with the hope for a soft landing.
As Paul Simon sang, “Strange to be 70.”
It’s finally sinking in that this journey is not going to last forever.
So several months before my actual birth date, knowing how I was feeling, my very, very understanding wife, knowing my penchant for wanderlust, asked, “So, what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“For turning 70. What are you going to do? You’ve got to do something special.”
So a week later I borrowed from a life insurance policy my folks had taken out on me when I was 18 and booked a two-week trip to China. It felt remotely — emphasis on remotely — similar to when I was 24, sold all my worldly possessions (totaling $1,400), and spent the next two-and-a half years working my way around the world.
Why China? Because I’d never been there and have always wanted to go.
The tour I signed up for included a few days in modern-day Shanghai; a four-day cruise up the Yangtze River; a visit to the millennia-old terra cotta warriors in Xian; climbing the Great Wall; touring Tiananmen Square, the Imperil Palace, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and more.
But after just a few days, what came screaming home to me — as it did all those years ago when I traveled about as a young man — was this: it’s not about the places; it’s always about the people.
Our Chinese guide, Jessica, and the 20 other people in our group were terrific. Everyone got along, no arguments, no one was ever late for a group event, no one got sick, no lost bags. And we all shared lots of laughs.
Beyond that, many of the Chinese people we came in contact with, no matter where we were, were more than friendly. They especially enjoyed taking pictures with us.
Surprisingly, it seemed we were as much a curiosity to them as they were to us, with their hard-to-understand language, cultural and religious icons, foods (including live scorpions slithering on skewers, subsequently fried after purchase), and seemingly suicidal city traffic patterns.
When language was a barrier, we hand-signaled our joy in meeting one another. When language wasn’t an obstacle, it was obvious that their concerns were the same as ours.
All crazy world politics aside, they want the same for their families as we do for ours: security, education, the chance to get ahead and live decent, satisfying lives.
The entire trip was what I refer to as a SMOJ — a spontaneous moment of joy. And a sharp reminder of just how important people are to our well-being.
A few weeks after I returned home, my wife and I hosted a BBQ to which nearly 60 of our closest friends and family came — from a high school classmate to new best friends I made during the China tour, and lots of folks I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of being friends with during the intervening years.
Heck, I never made a lot of money during my working years. But if the number of very good people who have crossed my path in the past 70 years are a measure of my wealth, I’m a very rich — and lucky — man.
Bring 80 on!