I turned 60 years old the other day, or, as everyone seems to enjoy calling it, The Big Six-Oh. A lot of my early baby boomer contemporaries have also been celebrating birthdays lately, so I’ve been spending time at the Hallmark store, where I’ve discovered how difficult it is to buy a birthday card for a 60-year-old that doesn’t feature some reference to flatulence, varicose veins or impotence. It’s as if we need to joke about it to cover our abject terror at the thought of having been on earth for three score years.
Well, call me crazy, but I’m not terrified. I’m also not ashamed or embarrassed. I’m rather proud and pleased about having survived the rampant childhood diseases of the pre-Salk vaccine 40s and 50s, the Cold War, a stint in Vietnam, the scourges of the so-called sexual revolution, the temptations of the drug culture, and the million other potential pitfalls of life, from crossing the street, to getting in and out of the shower, to driving on busy freeways. Heck, viewed from that perspective, making it to 60 in relatively good shape seems to me to be a pretty impressive accomplishment.
It also seems to me we have developed a very strange view of aging. Instead of looking at it as a natural and inevitable part of life (which, of course, it is) we have begun to see it as some kind of disease to be treated, stalled or even reversed (which, of course, it isn’t). Beyond that, a kind of aversion to aging has developed. It’s one thing to take care of yourself so the ravages of time can be postponed as long as possible, allowing you to continue to enjoy life as much as you can; however, it’s another to try to pretend be younger to cover up the “crime” of getting older.
I’m not arguing there is no melancholy side to moving closer to the end than the beginning, and I’m not discounting the difficulties age can produce, but it’s a boat in which we all sail. Nature hasn’t singled some of us out to experience the aging process; it affects every single living organism. But there is no running from it. Wearing clothing made for 20-year-olds, pretending you enjoy hip-hop music, having doctors pull your skin back as tightly as possible or trying to emulate teenage jargon won’t change a thing. There are still 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, and, if your lucky, somewhere around a hundred of those years to hang around.
Ironically, I work in a business that may be more responsible than any other for making people feel there is something wrong with them for getting older. In fact, the entertainment industry could be the last one in this country legally allowed to discriminate on the basis of age. How often is a TV executive quoted as gloating over big numbers in the “most desirable demographics” (read that as: “young adults”)? Talk about a class-action suit ready to happen!
I’m not being a Pollyanna about this. Would I rather be younger? I suppose so, but that’s really not an option. When you’ve been 59 for a year, you have two choices: turn 60 or die. I’m still here at 60. I like that.