Unlike many people “of a certain age,” I still get excited about birthdays. I have always considered my birthday to be a personal holiday. My husband will play Happy Birthday to me on his dulcimer. My mother will come for a visit and take us out to my favorite restaurant. And I will meditate on what I’ve learned about life. So here are some thoughts as I embark on a bright, shiny new year:
Time is limited. Of course I’ve always known – intellectually, at least – that we’re not immortal. But in recent years, this has started to register on a deep-down level with the loss of Dad and a best friend my own age. Bottom line: Nothing’s guaranteed. I need to let family and friends know how important they are to me and how they’ve impacted my life. I need to do this now.
I survived adolescence once already, thank-you. These days, I swear I’m experiencing more bodily changes than I did as a teenager. My husband and I have acquired a new pastime – looking up medical problems on the Internet after the doctor sends us for tests based on the latest unnerving symptoms. We’re fond of joking that aging lends a whole new meaning to the term “drug salad.”
Perfection is an illusion. All my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my career ambitions. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement.
So is eternal youth. Is 60 really the new 40, as Baby Boomers proclaim? Some say my generation is redefining old age. But truth be known, I have wrinkles. I have gray hair. There are some things I can’t do anymore – like burn the figurative candle at both ends and get away with it. Actually I wasn’t getting away with it when I was younger either. I just thought I was.
Perhaps I should say I’ve survived adolescence twice. I did have one of those midlife crises the shrinks talk about – that second adolescence complete with acne at age 45, identity struggles and acting out behaviors (red car, drastic career change). As I prepare to enter this new territory called Senior Citizenhood, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for my flaming midlife crisis to be over already! On the other hand, a friend sent me a Facebook meme that advised, “If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 60, you don’t have to bother.” Whew! Maybe I’m off that hook.
I do not spend all my time wishing I were younger. Yes, there are days when I wish I had my 20-year-old body – especially when my arthritis flares. But only if I could keep my 62-year-old mind and all the experience and wisdom about life that I’ve accumulated. Older women tell me the 60s can be really good years. I’m old enough to know what’s important and young enough to act on it. Besides, when I am 80, I will most likely wish I still had my 62-year-old body, so I might as well appreciate it now.
“Respect your elders!” never sounded so good. I can tell I’m getting older whenever I’m tempted to direct that admonition to 25- and 30-year-old kids. Oops! I mean colleagues and service people. On a serious note, it’s gotten more scary to encounter young adults who see their elders as people who either need to move out of the way or be thrown away rather than people to learn from and respect.
It’s time to let go of regrets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have picked up that first cigarette. I would have spent fewer of my prime years striving and competing for that brass ring that didn’t seem so shiny once I succeeded in grabbing it. Alas, I can’t change what happened decades ago. What I can do is make better decisions in this 24 hours. When my father turned 75, he said, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” I hope I can say that when I’m 75!
I have set some boundaries with the fashion world: 1. Clothes must be easy to care for. If they need dry-cleaning, forget it. 2. They must be comfortable – nothing that binds or scratches. 3. They must look good on a 60-something woman who’s never been a size 0 and never will be. 4. Since I don’t have time to constantly shop, my wardrobe must stay in fashion for longer than a month. If clothes don’t fit all these criteria, I leave them on the rack, no matter how many cute young things are wearing them!
I’m much less materialistic than I used to be. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s more THINGS!!! If I need to be reminded of this fact, I can go to my basement and gaze upon the 64 boxes marked “miscellaneous” that make me scream when I think about sorting whatever is in them.
But there are some things I continue to want. I want to spend more time on what’s important – traveling with my husband, entertaining family and friends – and less time mindlessly surfing the Internet. I want the courage to stand up for my values and let the chips fall where they may. I want to stop worrying about what my peer group thinks. I want to stop fighting with my own body.
Yes, I still have dreams. I have never been in a better position to achieve dreams like writing a book or making a constructive contribution to our society. The time to do these things is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest. (See “Time is Limited” above.)
I’m entering the Age of Wisdom. Or so I’m told. When I was in my 20s, I had the world figured out. But the older I got, the smarter my parents got, just as Mark Twain predicted. Now I’m convinced only God has all the answers, and it’s my job to keep asking the questions.
I have a LOT to be grateful for. I have a terrific 32-year marriage to the best man on the planet (I’m only slightly biased here). I have wonderful enduring friendships. I have a beautiful home and – for the first time in my life – some real financial stability. I’ve had a successful writing career, followed by a challenging career in human services, followed by fulfilling volunteer work. Despite minor ailments, I’m relatively healthy. And I’m thankful God has given me another year.