The View from Here — Living Life in My 80s



On my 18th birthday I cried because it suddenly hit me that I would continue to get older and no longer be hailed by people as a whiz kid, which I knew I was. On my 35th birthday I cried again because, in spite of a fascinating career in journalism, I saw I would continue to get older and hadn’t yet accomplished half of what I’d once dreamed. On my 60th, 70th, and 80th I just shrugged because by then I had accepted the fact that getting older was a lot better than quitting the wonderful, challenging world I lived in.

How individual we all are. I now live in an apartment building for seniors in California, and as we pass in the halls we smile or nod or just go on by. My neighbors are old folk from various parts of the world, all with rich histories that are hidden from me but still show in their eyes. Some full of sorrow, some full of joy, some full of dismissal. Most inscrutable.

Is this really the third or final chapter for Ed, the artist on the first floor? He turned 94 last month, and on his birthday Emily, his lovely gal aide, baked him a cake. We sneaked in, with our masks secure, and gave him a small surprise party, some funny gifts, balloons galore. Shoshana, whose apartment is next door, is in the hospital with shingles. I call and she sounds hopeful they’ll send her home soon. Tatiana down the hall takes an exercise class on Zoom with us twice a week and then, when I see her in the hall, we nod, and she practices her halting English on me. Vickie, in spite of her failing eyesight, makes me gorgeous greeting cards for every occasion and refuses to take payment. Then there is Faye, who we call “the Wraith,” because almost every day she startles us as she wanders quietly through the building, and the garage, in her bathrobe.

What I’ve learned in 83 years—life goes on. It’s sometimes beautiful, often frustrating, deeply sad, maybe boring, too often tragic, but somehow always very interesting. The alternative to life is silence, no one to talk to, no books to read, no politics to make me crazy, no sunshine most days, no emails from friends who are also survivors of this long trek.

Then there are so many wonderful memories of those who have gone before me. It’s not their loss that haunts me as I have accepted that people drop away. It’s a tearful smile they bring to my lips when I say their name or talk about them with others who knew them. Often, I hear a song on the radio that brings them back to me, vivid and alive as we once were together. Beloved people whose presence in my life brought me immeasurable joy.

Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

A journalist for much of her professional life, Morna Murphy Martell spent 15 years with The Hollywood Reporter as a weekly columnist and TV critic, then relocated to be their NY Bureau Chief and Broadway Critic. A film critic for five years with Shooting Magazine, she has also written for numerous entertainment industry trade magazines. Presently she is the theater columnist for Not Born Yesterday senior magazine and writes once a month on live theater that is, sadly, now only available on a virtual stage.

 Photo Credit:  Photo by Kevin Hooks

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