“Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” — Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
A friend recently posted that she was having hard time turning 60. She acknowledged that it’s just a number, but said, “It’s a big one, and I don’t even want to say it!” Even though I don’t share her anxiety over this major milestone (I pretty much choked everyone — friends, family, social media — with the fact that I was turning 60), I do understand her fear. When you turn 20, you think you have your whole life ahead of you — when you turn 60, you realize your whole life ahead of you may be 20 more years. Not trying to be morbid here, but my mother, an uncle, and an aunt all passed in their 80s. So you can see why I might be leaning toward 80s as a barometer of how much time we really have left.
The difference though, between turning 20 and 60 (besides a lot of wrinkles and other physical changes) is that we have the knowledge to use those next 20 years (if that’s our number) — wisely. I spent the better part of my younger adult life, living without purpose — going through the motions, just waiting to see what happened, all “lah-dee-dah, I’ll just see where life leads me” — and pretty much taking the rest of my life for granted. Now I realize the “rest of my life” may not be too far off, and I’m instead grabbing life by the horns and (hopefully) taking it down a more purpose-filled path.
Sure, I lament some of the doo-dah, time-wasting habits of my youth, but how lucky for me — and all the other sexagenarians out there — that those years weren’t a total waste. We now have the knowledge of what we did/didn’t do in our youth and have the opportunity to use it/fix it/change it to do things that matter! Aren’t 20 good, productive years as important — or maybe even more monumental — than 40 or 50 lived without purpose?
That doesn’t mean that I now live in fear that each day may be my last, and chide myself for not making the most of every waking moment. Rather, I like to think I’m making better choices for myself, and those around me, and no longer want to spend an inordinate amount of time doing things that simply don’t matter. Chances are, if you hear me say, “I’m too old for that,” (something I rarely say) what I really mean is, “I don’t have time for it.”
I recently left a career that I no longer loved in order to spend however many years I have left doing what I enjoy (handstanding and writing), and not wasting a moment of whatever amount of time will be the rest of my life. To paraphrase Harry in When Harry Met Sally, “When you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your life doing something, you want to stop doing it as soon as possible.”
Here’s the other thing, I like me better now at 60 than I did in my younger life. I don’t know how other people feel about me, but I think I’m a better person than I was in my youth. Thank heavens the first 30, 40, or 50 years weren’t it. I’d hate to think the person I was then would be all that people know now.
The biggest gift to receive at 60 is turning 60 — and the realization that life is too short and too precious to squander over dumb, meaningless, unimportant stuff. Do I wish I’d had this appreciation for “the rest of my life” sooner? Sure. But isn’t it a known fact that “Youth is wasted on the young?” (George Bernard Shaw). What matters is that I have that appreciation now at age 60 and I’m healthy enough to make good use of it. I’ve always loved life — and birthdays — but turning 60 has given me a new respect for whatever may be left of it. That, in itself, makes turning 60 truly monumental.
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