Recently, I booked a flight online and while filling out the form I found myself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling down to my birth date when suddenly it struck me how long it took to get to 1941.

Over the years I haven’t thought much about my age. Every time the calendar flips again it’s kind of shocking for a few minutes and then since I can’t reconcile the 27 year old inside of me with the real time number, I just let it go with a grin and an added candle on the gluten free cake.

But just now, 1941 was almost the last number. It began to dawn on me that when I wasn’t looking I went and turned 76. And that’s just plain surreal.

I remember when I told people I was 50 and their surprised reaction of no way. How I loved it. And then when I was turning 57 all they said was happy birthday. I remember feeling a twinge of, what no shock and no, no way? And then when I turned 60 people said you got to be kidding, no way are you 60 and I inwardly I said, yay. Then when I turned 68 they simply said happy birthday again.

Now when I say 76 and they say what, you are way too young to be that old, I catch myself before I take it as a compliment. And I realize how attached I am to our cultural thing about being young, looking young, never aging. I can’t help it. I am responding to my conditioning.

When my father turned 50, at his birthday party everyone gathered around him laughing at the book someone had given him. It was a lascivious kind of laugh. So of course later that night my sister and I stole into the den and found the hidden treasure. The title of the book was What To Do About Sex After Fifty and inside all the pages were blank. Haha. I was 15.

Ditto for the clever messages on his birthday cards: “You want me to come upstairs and make love to you? It will have to be one or the other.” “These aren’t wrinkles; they’re laugh lines.” “In honor of your birthday I placed you on the liver transplant wait list. You’re welcome.”

In traditional hunting societies the tribe had to keep moving, so when old people couldn’t keep up they were left behind. When my teacher, Ram Dass turned 70 he said all his western friends shook their heads in dismay, looked at his brown spots and said with sympathy, oh my God, Ram Dass you are getting old. And then in India, his friends there said, in reverence, ahhh Ram Dass you are getting old. Soon you will be an elder. You are becoming someone whose wisdom we can rely on and to whom we will listen.

So here I am living in a culture that worships youth with a blurred understanding that like nature, we are cyclical beings, no different from trees. We can’t have perpetual spring. Besides fall is my favorite season when everything dries up and dies (if you’ll pardon the expression).

I just heard a great quote from Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle In Time plus numerous others books, who died at 88. She said, “The best part about aging is, you get to keep all the other ages.”

And so I’m keeping 9 and 11 and 13 and 25 and 32 and a whole bunch in the middle. And I’m definitely keeping 76. But in the meantime I think I’ll have another piece of birthday cake. Add the gluten please.

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She is a commentator for NPR.