Turning 60 is a bitch. Seriously, it really is. Even in the land of high maintenance.
Anticipation starts months before the actual date. As each day creeps closer, all the previous decades before it are dragged like a 10-ton load in all their shame. I am only speaking for women, as I have no first hand experience of what it feels like for a man to turn 60. But I do know that anyone's 60th birthday has to be spectacular, and so my husband turned 60 smiling. There is something about knowing that if you are blessed, in 10 fast-flying years you will be 70. That, my friends, is shocking because, let's face it, no matter how many times we say that 60 is the new 40, 70 is old no matter how you slice it. So when you celebrate your arrival into your sixth decade, the holy-shit-I've-got-10-maybe-15-good-years-left button goes off automatically, rattling your very bones which by now have started to eek and creek a bit.
Last week, I gave my good friend Samantha (a pseudo name as the birthday girl has too many friends to have invited them all) a 60th birthday luncheon. I wanted it to be special from the get-go, because I love this particular Sam and know what a 60th can feel like having crossed that line two years ago myself. Approaching it is gnarly; I don't care how much you've got going. With a husband and two great kids and what is indeed a cushy life, I did not enter laughing. No, I definitely feel, if at all possible, that one should pull out all of the stops and love a friend into that decade.
And so did the birthday girl, which is a very good thing. My own rule to live by is that I always eat my favorite foods on my birthday. Whatever it is, and for whatever meal -- and I definitely choose my own birthday cake. Joy that good food (and cake) is, it should be part of the special day, and even more so when it's a biggie. Being very wise and intuitive, and also having impeccable social skills, Sam, when I asked how and what she wanted for her birthday celebration at my house, made her birthday wishes known. (This is so important to do, these big birthdays can go either way, emotionally speaking...) She made a guest list that was the perfect size for one long table and invited people from every decade in her life from far and wide to come. Sam and I got together over coffee a few weeks before with another friend of hers, a woman I've known through Sam and liked but didn't know well. She and I were the birthday committee co-hosts, there to facilitate and manifest our pal's transition, which, I've gotta say, was no small feat. This Sam, she's no small potatoes in the hosting arena. She does dinners, salons and art parties, all of them very tasty and well-done affairs, as well as lots of fun.
The bar was high.
My co-host, who became the art department/executive producer, was such a must if you are ever thinking of giving a friend a "big" birthday party. Mine is a photographer/videographer by trade, so she did all the invitations, place cards (by hand) and made a spectacular collage of Sam's life from age one up to the present, with many pictures of the women at the lunch. This was a surprise as well as a big hit. She handled RSVPs and emailed back and forth with me several times a day about various minor details that are what producing anything well is all about. Through this process I got the blessing of a new friend -- I miss the co-host!
Co-host, by the way, was the one who piped up at coffee with the tribute idea. OMG. This is a must for any 60th. Good for a 50th too, but needed and better suited to the 60th. A tribute time. Call it what you will. The co-host called it a game, I think, at first, but being no fool she knew what it was and it's significance. A get-to-know-you game, a tell-three-stories-about-Sam-and-we'll-guess-which-one-is-false game. Whatever. It's a time to go around the room and say, "Girl, you've hit 60 and this is who you are. Girl, you've been seen in all of your glory. Darling, you've done well." This is what we need and want to hear at 60.
I dare say all the time, but at 60 you look at what you have and have not achieved in your life, how much you have manifested and how many of your dreams you let go by the way side. You look at the things that have meant the most, that you've worked hardest at, the things you spent your time creating and ask yourself, did I do it OK? You know you never did it well enough and would love to go back and redo so many things because you would do them so much better but you can't. Oh yeah, 60 is when you begin to use the magnifying mirror in all areas and it is tough.
Sam's college roommate from freshman year started the fun, and from there we went around the table clockwise for a while, but shortly lost all semblance of order amongst the laughter and raucous interrupting that ensued. Samantha sat there drinking it in through every pore. She laughed and interjected that she felt like she was being eulogized. I need to stop right here and say she was, in a way. And also this: Who among us has not fantasized being at his or her own funeral service listening to hear all of the things being said, hoping against hope that nice things and good things you tried to do were noted. It's been written about often.
But here is what I learned at Sam's party: It is basic human need and also a great, great thing to do turning 60. It is great to create an environment where you can, in fact, be eulogized, paid tribute to, told how much you have affected someone and be uplifted and praised for being yourself. How neat. How empowering. How nurturing. What a bloody waste that it happens when you're dead when it could fuel the next few decades to come.
"Praise the Lord and all his saints," as my Grandma O'Neill would say, what a cool concept!
The party was a big success. Like anything in life, the more I put into it and went the extra mile with the whole shindig, the more I got back. Tenfold, I'd say.
So much was brought to the party as far as intelligence, bravery and inspiration, not to mention beauty and style. Women who have raised children, produced movies, run galleries, written books, designed jewelry and gone back to school. Women sharing their stories of loss and triumph, confessing to youthful wildness, owning their deeds and misdeeds loud and wonderful. And it can be, and was, hilarious! Women boldly acknowledging their demons and addictions, their allegiance to hope and their belief in joy filled my deck with their beauty and wisdom and did not stop yakking once!
I feel so much richer, know so much more and feel connected to several, if not many, more women today than I did before last week when my friend Sam turned 60. It goes without saying that I also feel good that she's finally caught up to the rest of us who are in our new 40s.
And whoever said turning 60 in L.A. is just about the Botox, is missing the heart of the matter.