On New Year’s Day 2017, I was drowning in dread. I was totally not looking forward to hanging up the new calendar, because for me this year was to be the Big Six-Oh. I only had until March to think of myself as still being in my fifties. Every changing of the decade prompts a period of sober reflection, a time for taking stock of the past and planning for the future, but somehow, 60 felt more like, “Oh, yikes.” The visage of mortality was stark and unmoving.
As the fateful day approached, I knew I had to look at the coming milestone in a softer light. As people said, half-jokingly, turning 60 beats the alternative. They left unspoken the somber part: that the alternative would be death. At 60, one is no longer young, or in the prime of life, or even middle-aged. Death is definitely hovering over this olden Medicare stage, which is not even a half-joke.
I had to stop doing what I thought of as Morbid Math: I’d think, When I am 60, if I live to be 80, I will have already lived three-quarters of my life. When I am 60, if I live to be 90, I will have already lived two-thirds of my life. I figure 80 is a ripe old age, and 90 is a long shot, so the odds are that I have already lived most of my life. That went fast, I’d think. But, as old King Lear said, “That way madness lies.”
So I decided to own it. I own 60. I’m 60, World. Deal with it.
As it turns out, the buildup to turning 60 was worse that the actual event. Getting to 60 has been a thrilling, fun ride. I have lived in fascinating times, having been born the same year as Sputnik. I spent my childhood in a nation reaching for the moon. In my lifetime I have been a witness to the most amazing discoveries and technologies and developments. The world has changed drastically and dizzyingly in the past six decades. Well, World, we’ve had some wild times, you and I.
As a typical baby boomer, I have been well-educated and well-fed. I have been taught that the sky’s the limit and that nothing is impossible. And all that is true. I’ve given birth four times and been happily married for almost four of my decades. My husband and I have given the world four spectacular women. I’ve had my share of comedy and tragedy, turbulence and serenity, trial and achievement. I’ve dwelt in the valley and climbed to the mountaintop. I have felt as high as heaven and as low as hell. Thus far, no complaints.
“The road goes ever on and on,” sang Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins, but the individual journey does not. Sixty is a slowing in the rate of travel, but 60 also invites me to look around a little more, instead of focusing on the route ahead. There is beauty everywhere, if we notice it. There is much to ponder, much to wonder about, much to treasure, much to love.
And there are benefits. Menopause, when you are finally through the messy transitional part, actually rocks. What could be better than never having to worry about an unplanned pregnancy? Or passing by the array of feminine products at Target and not needing any of them? I’d hate to count up the fortune I’ve spent during my fertile years on tampons and the like. I can spend my savings now on anti-wrinkle creams and eye vitamins.
Myself at 60 is much more likely to speak my mind. I have no problem at this age looking someone straight in the eye and saying, “Of course you know I completely disagree with you.” Myself at 50 would have sugarcoated that statement; myself at 40 or any earlier decade would have kept my opinion to myself. At 60, I don’t have to impress anyone or retreat from anyone or act like I agree with anyone when I don’t. I’m 60: I don’t have a lot of time left!
Actually, 60 is pretty much like 59, although it’s a little harder to say. I’m grateful for the birthday wishes. I’m at peace with the creaking bones in the morning and the getting up to pee at night, with the crow’s feet at my eyes and the decline of the valiant breasts. I have earned these features, after all. I can’t expect to look younger than my daughters. But every six weeks or so, I quietly take a trip on that river in Egypt (you know, the one called de Nile, yuk yuk) with a couple of boxes of hair coloring. Together, we pretend that I am still a redhead, because that identity seems to be in my DNA. Maybe myself at 70 will accept the white hair. I’m just not there yet. So much for maturity.