The problem with turning 60 is the panic.
Just yesterday, I was 16, dressed in a sparkly leotard and ballet flats, doing perfect splits on a rainy high school football field at halftime, arms aloft, head tilted up to the press box, my face breaking from holding the smile.
Just yesterday, I was 18, kissing the first boy I loved, almost fainting from the experience.
Just yesterday, I was 21, riding on the back of a motorcycle on a summer night in Montana and dancing in an all-night swing-dance marathon and spending two days reporting at the Oregon Penitentiary for my college newspaper.
Most importantly perhaps, just yesterday it was my 24th birthday and I was giving birth to my first-born child, my heart cracking in two, changing me in a way I never imagined possible, in a way only people who’ve had children can understand, in a way there are no words for in our human language.
The point is, just yesterday, I was 16 or 18 or 21 or 24, and now I’m 60. Six. Zero. In what seems like the blink of an eye. Which means, in the logic of the space-time continuum that I’ll be 85 in what will feel like tomorrow.
All this despite that most days I feel about 38 mentally and physically, and can keep up with moderately fit family and friends who are half my age at just about any endeavor – as long as that endeavor happens between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Full disclosure: I can’t keep up with any super fit people, and was recently bested on a bike by a 78-year-old.)
They say – those people who say these things – that age is only a number, but the fact is, turning 60 means you’ve crossed into the decade gerontologists define as “young-old” and all that keeping up with the young’uns requires a longer recovery. Heck, I threw out my back the other day not by lifting weights (which has also happened) but by getting out of bed too fast. Getting out of bed. I can’t tolerate super fat foods anymore, about pass out on a half-glass of wine, and parts of my feet ache in ways I didn’t know were possible.
But overall, I’m happier, way more active, a deeper thinker, and more content at 60 than in previous years. My marriage is healthier and more fulfilling, I finally have (some) time for friendships and I enjoy (and am addicted to) the unconditional love of a grandchild. I’m better at expressing love to my friends and family. I still wrestle with the demons of depression and worry, but I can enjoy life now in a way I wasn’t able to when younger.
Still, if it is really true that age is ‘just a number’, then why are the cases of age discrimination rising and cosmetic surgery growing in demand? Why do the Grandmas of Instagram look like professional models? Don’t all these things illustrate that maybe age is more than just a number? Or, at least, that it’s a number we care a lot about?
For most of my life, I’d had a laissez-faire attitude regarding aging; when you’re raising four kids you don’t have much time to look in the mirror. Then I turned 55 and fear started walking me from the bus stop into my office because everywhere I turned it seemed women my age looked a good decade or two younger. I couldn’t find anyone with a face like mine and the dread began.
It isn’t that youth-obsession is new to our culture, but it seems to have gone into overdrive in the past decade. Women barely out of their 20s – and some in their 20s – poke poison into their faces to freeze expression lines, 45-year olds inject fillers into wrinkles and everyone has to have “Hollywood white” teeth. (Fun activity: Watch a film from 20 years ago and pay attention to the actors’ teeth.)
Part of this forever-young push is a result of age discrimination in Hollywood. Few actresses are able to be who they are and still get parts, while old and (naturally) wrinkled male actors get cast with abandon – and usually with leading ladies half their age.
Another part of it is social media, particularly apps like Instagram, which started out as a photo sharing app and became a marketing tool for just about everyone. Who can keep up with the perfectly framed, perfectly lit photos highlighting Your Best You? (Side note: Where do average people find the time to do all this styling?)
In my trepidation, I started buying hope in many bottles and, although I’ve noticed scant-to-zero difference with the usage, I keep hoping the difference is just around the corner. Vanity isn’t one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but every time I write a check for my potions instead of donating it to something like preventing climate change or electing a new president, I think maybe it should be.
You want to believe that you won’t be invisible just because you’re aging, that your life experience, awards – your brain, for heaven’s sake – will be all that matters. But then you see two friends laid off as they cross into their sixth decade, or watch a highly-degreed, highly experienced health care executive unable to find work after a downsizing, or you get dismissed by a younger colleague (or even younger relatives) as out-of-touch, and you wonder if age is the number that determines it all.
So, what are we to do as we face the rest of our “young-old” life? I’m thinking we shouldn’t shut our mouths, our minds or give up our mojo. Keep your place at the table, be that in a conference room or your own kitchen, and focus on the work and the relationships, not the wrinkles.
As for me, I took a big hike on my birthday and adjusted the following list to knock out the rest of the year. The strikeouts represent things I’ve already knocked out in the first two weeks of the year! Feel free to steal from it or create your own, and let’s all make sure we get as much living out of this life as we can, no matter what our age. (P.S. If you have connections to help me get this to-do list done – I’m looking at you Mr. Firefighter – please contact me. Thanks!)
- Appear in a video
- Ride along with a cop
- Try belly dancing
- Take a Dobro lesson
- Be able to play Pacabel’s Canon in D
- Get a professional photo in the desert
- Get an in-person meeting with my local congressperson re: action on climate change
- Invite the UA president to dinner
- Have coffee with a homeless person
- Talk to guy at bus stop and get his story
- Slide down a fire station pole
- Work as a barista for a day
- Get accepted by local media as a regular columnist
- Join UA pom line for one cheer
- Apply to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate
- Spend a half day at the Sister Jose Center
- Be able to fold myself in half
- Serve on a local town board
- Take tap dancing lessons
- Hike 7 falls
- Have coffee with a gun-rights supporter
- Be a matchmaker for local partisan/politicians
- Be crossing guard at school
- See a horse born at UA farm
- Go roller skating
- Ride a train to CA
- Brush and Bottle class
- Segway tour
- Offer free hugs somewhere in public
- Harvest honey
- Go to a dude ranch for a week
- Develop a new motto: When it’s too rough for everyone else, it’s just about right for me