Sixty snuck up and smacked me
I just turned the big 6-0. Sixty. What the hell?
I’ve been reading essays on reaching this point in life, and I don’t seem to be taking this as philosophically as some. Unlike others, I don’t think I’ll be posting up on a barstool or relaxing in an easy chair and waxing poetic regarding the wisdom attained over so many years, or professing to be at the stage of life where I am perfectly satisfied, confident and content in being the person I want to be and where my life is. That’s what so many essays on aging seem to prioritize.
No, the sugarcoated witticisms on reaching such a monumental milestone or the jokes that living this long is much better than the alternative aren’t my style. Truth is, I feel like 60 snuck up from behind and jumped me before I had a chance to turn and fight, a baseball bat smacking me on the side of the head and knocking me out cold, waking up to something I have no idea how to cope with: mortality.
One is forced to ask just what is a life well-lived and whether this path I’m on is the right one? Have I made the right choices? I’m reminded of a quote from author Edith Wharton in one of those essays on aging I read: “Perhaps — perhaps — but all things are perhaps, and either way there lies a doubt, you know.”
Doubts. Yes, most us have them, and those who don’t are probably much too full of themselves. At 60, I still wrestle with them. How does one measure whether a life is lived to its fullest? What portions of love, adventure, wonder, and purpose should we seek? What about honesty and integrity? Am I doing right by my family, my friends, those acquaintances and strangers I come into contact with?
All those emotional and sentimental gauges aside, age does force one to measure how our body is holding up. I made it to 50 without breaking a bone or having surgery. In the last 10 years there have been ankle breaks, quadricep tears, a dislocated finger and more that have required four orthopedic surgeries. I’ve become adept at using crutches on stairs, sleeping and showering with ankle and leg braces, and even removing my own cast when the doctor called to delay and deny me that small measure of freedom (wine and stubbornness, taken together, are a powerful force).
As fate would have it, a letter arrived 10 days after my 60th and four days before the new year from the general practitioner noting slightly elevated cholesterol from my recent labs. No medications necessary, but a not-so-gentle recommendation to eat healthier, continue exercising, cut out the cigars and generally take better care of myself. Good timing.
By one important measure — love — I’ve been luckier than most. I’ve never felt alone for too long. From my earliest memories, I knew my mother’s love was strong, fierce and all-consuming. She had three marriages, and I was with her at age 12 and then at 17 when the two of those unions went south. As she struggled in her personal life, she was unwavering in her devotion to me and my brothers. The tough and tender love I got from her also emanated from an extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins. Lucky indeed.
And there’s my love affair and marriage to Lori. Not enough space here to describe the fire with which it started, the adventures we’ve shared and the passion that still remains. We’ve mourned the loss of a child, a tragedy that destroys many marriages and an emotional mauling I wish on no person. But it made us stronger, encouraged us to move to a small town in the mountains and devote ourselves to our family. Our three children — all adults now — have shown me again and again what real love is. I’ve tried to be there for them, and truth be known they’ve been there to prop me up more than they likely know. So on this count, I’ll consider myself richly blessed.
And those doubts I alluded to earlier? Well, perhaps it’s more an appreciation for life lived a bit on the edge, learning to embrace a measure of uncertainty rather than seeking security. At 39, I had a vision of just what my professional life might look like for the next 25 years. It horrified me. It also convinced me to take the leap and go into business for myself with this newspaper and our growing media company. It’s given me that measure of purpose I craved while also forcing a constant reinvention as this particular industry changes at a breakneck pace.
So 60 is here, but what’s next? I have a few ideas, but truthfully I just don’t know. And that’s the way I like it.