This year I will turn 60. I sort of like the sound of the word, sexagenarian, especially since my latest poetry collection is called Lust. Plus, the idea of having completed my fifth decade inspires me to reflect back on my life.
This initially brings me back to 1964 when I was ten years old and my grandmother and caretaker committed suicide in my childhood home. It wasn't a horribly graphic scene -- an overdose of sleeping pills, her face looking peaceful as she lay in her bed. Yet, it was traumatic to lose the person who provided me with unconditional love. The part of the story that stands out for me now, is that she was only 61 years old. From where I stand today, it feels way too young to die. I have so many dreams and aspirations moving me forward. I also question why she might have taken her life at a time that I consider my prime.
After some thought, the answers are simple. First, she was still dealing with the childhood trauma of losing her parents at an early age, and second, she lost all her passion for living. My grandmother was orphaned during World War I, and the pain remained embedded inside of her for the rest of her life. Also, at about the time she took her life, I began the age-appropriate route of claiming my independence. For example, I insisted that she no longer walk me to school, and I began making my own lunch in the mornings. Perhaps she no longer felt needed, perhaps she thought she had nothing to live for. It's easy to speculate, but I will never really know the reasons she decided to check out. What I do know is that I hope to remain passionate about everything I do and have a lust for life until the day I die.
Of course I like to tell myself that 60 is the new 50. But looking around at friends and comparing our lives to those of our ancestors, I am kind of beginning to believe this. For me personally the good news is that people say I look like I am in my early forties. This is comforting, but I don't think I am the only one. The revelation hit me last year when I was asked for my ID upon entering a bar in Louisville, Kentucky. It didn't matter that they were carding everyone (for whatever reason), the important thing is that it made me feel youthful. I think many baby boomers have similar sentiments about feeling youthful. In fact, a recent study showed that more people are feeling a disconnect between how they feel and look and their chronological age. These days, many options are available for non-invasive interventions to help people look younger, in addition to the bombardment of reminders of the importance of healthy eating and living. Not to mentiona how many of us have incorporated vitamins and supplements into our daily protocol. Not to mention the standard insertion of vitamin supplements in our daily routines.
In 2011, the oldest baby boomers turned 65. Every day roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65, which means that approximately twenty-six per cent of the population are baby boomers. According to a Pew Survey done in 2009, a typical baby boomer does not believe old age begins until 72. The same study showed that 61 per cent of baby boomers feel more spry than their age would imply. Apparently I'm not the only one with the mantra that 60 is the new 50...
This leads me to the conclusion that age is just a number and that you are how old you feel. It is also true that you age like you live. If you have been curious and active your entire life, health permitting, you will continue to do so. One thing that does not make me feel young is the weekly literature in my mailbox from The American Association of Retired People (AARP). They really need to change the name of that organization. The connotations associated with them are no longer positive. I cringe when I see those letters and the ones they sell their mailing lists to--the cremation companies! Why are they rushing us along? Plus, I began receiving their solicitations at around 50. (Oh, the real one, like 10 years ago, not the new 50 which I'm approaching now) That's far from the official retirement age. What's more is that most people I know at the age of 60 are ready to move into the next phase of their lives, whether it is a different profession or pursuing lifelong passions which they never had time to pursue. My own mother worked as a receptionist in a busy hospital until she was 78. My husband retired as a CEO and became an artist at the age of 55. A complete life change.
In conclusion, the Pew survey also shared that most baby boomers maintain a "count my blessings," attitude and I can honestly vouch for this. I appreciate and honor every day I wake up breathing and wanting to embrace the day. I also feel blessed that I am able to dig deeper into my lifelong passions that include writing, reading, meditating, exercising and socializing. I hope my enthusiasm for life at 60 can inspire others, along with many other like-minded boomers. The opportunity to seize the day is available to all -- no matter what number you are.