I turned 59 on Saturday and I find myself clinging to that second digit like the nine in nine lives. For next comes 60, and then one is undeniably “up there.” I’m sorry, but 60 is not “the new” anything.
Your 50s can be fun, but the prospect of 60 sobers you. If you’re healthy and reasonably fit, it’s a blessing and softens the prospects. But still your 60s will be a decade of retirement cakes, Social Security, your 50th high school reunion.
Sometimes when I sign up for something online and click on the list to select my birth year, the years race down and down like a dial on H.G. Wells’ time machine. It stops at 1956. Ike, Sinatra, young Elvis, big-finned cars, the H-bomb. That was before JFK, the Beatles, Vietnam, Selma, all that, long ago.
It doesn’t help to be not only older but also an older newspaper editor. Not only has my hair gone gray, but my industry is creaking along, the old presses wearing out. My life and my life’s work are aging almost in step.
I remember asking my late father when he would have wanted to live if he could choose any time, past or future. He said he would choose to live right where and when he was. It wasn’t that the present was better than the past – though in innumerable physical ways it is – it was that he thought one should not live life longing to be in tomorrow or nostalgic for some bygone era. Our moment is our own. We should be content with it, indeed grateful to live when we do. His perspective comes as a gift this birthday.
That said, I can hear and understand a man of 79 reading this meditation on a birthday and thinking, “My God, to be 59 again, to be given 20 years.” To be content with when one lives does not preclude regret that life passes too quickly and even alarm that as we get older it seems to pass faster.
Fifty-nine is a time for assessing and seeking perspective. I think sometimes of those who accomplished so much in much shorter lives. It’s astonishing that the poet John Keats died at 25, that President Kennedy was only 46 that day in Dallas, that F. Scott Fitzgerald was broken, despairing and gone at 44, and John Lennon was taken in the prime of his life at 40.
Then there are other ages that make you realize how far along you are. I’m older than the president. I work with people born in the 1980s, watch college athletes born in the 1990s. My oldest child will turn 30 this year. Wasn’t she a teenager just yesterday?
Yet there are still things that make you feel younger. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the new light on the Democratic horizon, is 65. Hillary Clinton is seeking to be sworn in as the first female president when she will be 69.
And there are positives that come with the years. Surveys show people generally get happier, more grateful and more at peace as they get older. And they should. Even in our 50s, we’ve exceeded the typical lifespans of most of human history and we’re healthier than older people of the past.
Growing older is also changed by the Internet and mobile communication. Almost everyone has the power of searching the Internet and access to new ways of communicating. We can find out so much, understand so much and be constantly in touch. Gone are the days when retirees retired from life, were cut off, a bit out of it.
My birthday coincides with the new year and resolutions. Mine is to savor 59 and look forward to 60. It’s not the new anything but it will be new to me and good to be.