Wednesday, March 07, 2012

On Turning Sixty

Today is my 60th birthday.  This means something to me.  I know there are lots of people who are indifferent to birthdays, who barely celebrate them, who say “age is just a number,” but I’m not one of them.  You can dismiss anything by saying “it’s just a:” number, movie, story, whatever; all that does is give you an excuse for not having feelings about it, and I believe in having feelings about everything.  There are also folks who hate their birthdays and won’t tell their age, because each passing year makes them feel increasingly ancient and freaks them out.  I understand how they feel, but I’m not one of them, either.

All my birthdays matter to me, especially the milestones – meaning 18, 21, 65 and anything that ends in 0.  I took 30 and even 40 in stride.  Fifty was a little wobbly, but I was a little wobbly in general; my 50s were a lost decade (I don’t care to go into why, just take my word for it).  But 60 is unique.  It doesn’t just mark the start of a new decade, it’s the true start of growing old.  This feels peculiar, because emotionally I’m still about 18.  This doesn’t mean I still feel the zest of youth, but rather, that I haven’t fully matured in some way.  If I didn’t have some sense of the wisdom that’s supposed to come with age, I’d feel like a complete moron, but fortunately, I do, so I just feel kind of…stunned.

At the same time, I also feel a sense of renewal.  This may be my last totally compos mentis decade, as well as the last one in which my lifelong bad habits haven’t totally caught up with me (of course, that remains to be seen), and I have a keen desire to make the most of it.  But I’m not aiming for Grand Old Age.  I think people live entirely too long these days.  I’d rather die than live to be in my 90s –  and I’m confident that I will…

People tell me I don’t look my age, but they’ve been saying that since I was a kid.  Today, they mean I look younger.  But when I really was younger, I always looked “older and more mature” than my age.  This was often a pain in the ass, like having to take my birth certificate to the movies in order to get the children’s price, or the time I was in 6th grade, sitting on the front steps of the school waiting for Lunch to be over, and a school aide said “you can’t wait for your child here.”  “But I am a child here!” I replied, dismayed.

But the “you don’t look your age” thing got tired when I was 22 and after being in a minor car accident, a witness described me as “tall, big, curly-haired, about 40.”  After that, I gave up trying to figure out how old I was perceived to be or give much of a damn about it.  Although, I went to the doctor yesterday for a full check-up (not deliberately timed to coincide with This Occasion) and when I told the technician who was checking my vitals that I’d be 60 today, she gave me a big sympathetic smile and said “Well, bless your heart!” which, as you may know, can mean anything from Congratulations to Fuck You, depending on the speaker’s feelings (and whether or not you’re in the south).  It just made me feel old.  And it didn’t help to find out that I’ve shrunk an inch.  I was 5’6” for decades.  Now I’m 5’5”.  So I feel old and short.  This part of turning 60 sucks.

But there is a good part.  I feel more free.  I feel more worthy of the respect I always deserved but didn’t feel worthy of.  I appreciate my accomplishments and feel less guilty about my shortcomings.  I have numerous regrets, which haunt me, but I know that’s pointless.  I’m more in touch with anger I’ve had forever but never acknowledged – and as a result, I feel more forgiving (of myself and others).  I also feel a much greater sense of gratitude about the people and things I have in my life, as well as more content and comfortable about my “circumstances” – which aren’t great, but could easily be a hell of a lot worse.

And I feel, finally, fully accepting of who and what I am.  I’ve also made my peace with the idea that some of the confusion, fear, and uncertainty I’ve felt all my life I may never resolve, and it’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with not being able to answer all of your own (let alone Life’s) questions.  It doesn’t mean I won’t still ponder them, but I’ve lost my sense of urgency about understanding them.

This afternoon, I will get a manicure and bake myself a birthday cake.  Tonight I’ll order in sushi and break open the bottle of sparkling wine I never bothered opening on New Year’s Eve.  I’ll be alone, but I don’t feel melancholy about it, which I did for awhile leading up to today; ultimately, it was my choice.  Today I feel at peace with myself, and even (however momentarily) with the world gone mad we live in.  All in all, I’m okay.  Which is good to be able to say at 60.

No comments: