Sooner Than You Think
Turning 60 may not make you old, but it certainly makes you ponder.
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Of course there are the little scares life sends your way. A few years ago, a doctor mistook a mild episode of Bell’s Palsy for a stroke, sending me into a brief paroxysm of morbid thoughts and self-pity before the diagnosis got straightened out. Then there was a bout with basal cell carcinoma to make me contemplate my mortality, but that was excised by a little laser zapping, leaving me once again secure in the belief that I was immortal.
Now if only my skin would clear up. For that I’ve been waiting since I was a teenager.
But isn’t it undeniable that we change—mature—as we get older?
Emotionally I still feel like a high school dork masquerading in a graying body, but, if age has given me any insights into our species’ social rituals, it’s that this feeling is universal across all ages. Older folks just get better at disguising these feelings of insecurity. Thank God, I don’t have to chase girls anymore.
So what does change?
An old friend, now sadly gone, once suggested that the easiest way to determine a person’s age was to ask him to fill in the blank in the following declaration:
“I just had a great _____!”
Youngsters will most likely fill in the blank with a reference to a reproductive activity. Older folks more often think about ingestion or elimination. Your answer is safe with me.
That may be the heart of it. Clint Eastwood’s example aside, I’m just not in competition for alpha male anymore. My career ambitions are greatly diminished now that I’m certain I won’t win a Nobel Prize, and that doesn’t bother me at all. Content to go to bed early and get up before the sun, to do good work on an abbreviated basis, to photograph the sunrise or write an occasional essay, I’m not as consumed by the fires of professionalism as are some of my friends. They make more money, but most of them—in private, at least—admit they would love to find a way to throttle back.
No party animal, I suppose my social excitement quotient has diminished over the years, but I can’t say I miss anything. Even my tolerance for alcohol, not great even during my youth, has decreased. Now I find that it takes less and less to give me a headache the next day. Even a glass of wine at dinner can do me in.
It seems I’ve also lost my ability to hold a grudge for more than a few days. My sense of petty outrage was highly developed as a kid, but no more.
Perhaps these seemingly minor changes are the nod that age gives to wisdom, but I certainly don’t feel any smarter these days. Indeed, the phrase, “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll know,” holds greater ironic meaning for me than I would ever have imagined.
As I said, 60 seems like a big deal, but, to be absolutely honest, I don’t yet see it as a watershed event in my life, unless you count the senior discount I now can get on movie tickets. The decline to this point seems undramatic and gradual, even as I occasionally wonder whether every ache and pain—or forgotten name—marks the beginning of the end, whether my mind and body have begun their inevitable betrayal.
Maybe it’s as Churchill characterized the tide of World War II after the battle of El Alamein: “It is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”
That, my friends, is worth celebrating. As for regrets, ask me when I’m 70.
Oh, I chose a bottle of Krug Vintage 1988 and enjoyed it immensely, headache and all.