THE BLOG

Sixty Is Sixty

12/06/2013 07:10 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014

Sixty is not the new fifty. Sixty is what it is: beyond middle-age.

I'm not saying this to be mean. It's just that my friends here in the Baby Boom Generation don't want to talk about it. Sixty is hard to accept. So are the AARP envelopes that go in the trash unopened. Heck, we have concerts to go to. We have skiing to do. We have online classes to take.

It's not that you can't do any of this, but it's clear if you go to a Bruce Springsteen or Rolling Stones concert, there's much gray hair there. I just attended a surprise sixtieth birthday party for a high school friend, and I vividly remember our high school dances. Most of us had just stood around. We were doing the same at this party, but with margaritas.

At first, I was shocked in realizing we looked like our grandparents. We were much different than at fifty. Soon, however, we were laughing, probably having a better time than in high school. In fact, the birthday boy and two classmates performed, one on lead guitar, one on bass, one on drums.

Crossing the sixty birthday line for some people is like moving from Disneyland into a coal mine. It's being sucked into a vortex that spits you in front of a mirror only to see Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall staring back instead of Harry Potter or Hermione. Once you accept a certain psychological premise though, it's not so bad. In fact, it can free you.

What's the Problem?

Let's first look at what's so gruesome about accepting sixty.

1) "I feel young -- why should I be old?" No one says you can't feel young. You just have more experience than others. That's an amazing thing, no?

Remember how hard it was to be pulled into adolescence? For many preteens even today, they don't want body hair or a big penis or breasts growing. (My, how that wish flips around.) Sixty is something similar, where you wish that the hair in your nose and ears stops growing.

The fact is, we have stages in life. Sixty is usually past the "I'm Getting Divorced" stage, "My Kids Have Problems" stage, or the "I was Unfairly Fired" stage, and just before the "I Have Shingles" stage. Not all the stages in life are easy or fair.

Put it this way. When people compliment you on looking young, you're old. As the comedian George Burns said before he hit 100, "You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there."

Still, nothing says you can't have desires or goals or that you have to define yourself by some creaky notion of "old." The great baseball player Sachel Paige, who played baseball professionally into his sixties, said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" Your age doesn't have to be your main identity factor.

2) "I expected to have done more before I got old. How can this be the end?"

It's not the end. I can't help that you bonged perhaps a bit too often or you often put off today what you could do in a far-off tomorrow. Now the tomorrow is here. So is, nearly, retirement, which many of you have not been saving for enough. Think of it this way: start in on your bucket list. Also, you have five or ten years to work your butt off and save for the later years.

3) "I don't look sixty."

Maybe you don't. If life's been harsh or you tanned a bit too often when you were younger and full of promise, maybe you look seventy now. Or maybe you've been blessed with good genes or a great plastic surgeon. It doesn't mean you shouldn't contemplate what you want to do with this part of your life.

If you're healthy and full of zip, don't slow down. If the knees or hips aren't working as well as they used to, figure out what you can do. Perhaps you can still visit the places you want. You certainly can offer your experience and insight to younger people: the majority of people on earth.

Yes, it's hard to accept the young waiter pointing out the senior specials at the back of the menu, but then again, those savings are nice. One can at least pretend to be old for that.

My challenge has been that I had an image of "old": my grandparents' friends. At eight, I assumed they had always been old, bent-backed, and hard of hearing. They talked far too much, and they'd let their cigarette ashes get long as they prattled on. I'd stare, wondering if the ash would hit their nice clothes or the carpeting. I figured my grandparents' friends had always been wrinkly.

Still, my grandmother was different. While she had gray hair, she also always walked fast, loved traveling, and joyfully worked in her extensive gardens. She read voraciously and loved taking my brothers and cousins to the movies. Only now do I understand the zen of gardening and the joy of traveling.

Why and What to Do

I happened to be born when the harsh realities of earlier generations had passed. The big wars were over, and thanks to better medicine and vaccinations, people my age weren't dying around me. The fifties were prosperous, and yet my generation saw its parents settle into gender or work roles that we didn't want for ourselves, so we forged a new direction. Now we've reached another new path: older age. The notion of "The Golden Years" feels false. We want something new, and it's not "old."

Still, we're old. The benefit of accepting it is to be fun and honest like Maude from Harold and Maude without calling it a day just yet.

We may not have received the wealth, health, or privilege that we expected, but look at the major things you've done: probably a lot. This is a time to be honest with yourself -- not dour, just honest. You're not as strong, fast, handsome or beautiful as you were thirty years ago, but you still have a lot. You make certain people happy. Accept this passage.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger felt everyone should contemplate their own deaths in order to experience "dasein," which is about living in the moment. If you had dropped acid or used other drugs, wasn't that in part, to "be in the now"? At sixty and beyond, you can enjoy "being there" without the drugs by accepting you're in a new phase of life.

Howard Beale from the movie Network entreated people to open their windows and yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"? Now you can do something similar, but in your mind, as you say, "I'm over sixty, and I'm going to love what I can and take plenty more."

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

The Moment I Knew I Wasn't Young Anymore