Two days ago, I received a note from a reader who follows my writing on a couple of different platforms. It caught me by surprise, if for no other reason that it is so very easy, sitting here in relative isolation and still under the corner of the heavy quarantine blanket, to feel as though nobody’s paying attention at all.
I was wrong. Not only that, her comment, as a woman approaching 50, really underscored for me a great truism for all of us as we pass the 60 milestone. I hope it resonates with you:
I am years (decades, really) from 70. As I close in on 50, I am starting to question my life, in a good way. Is this where I want to live? To work? Is this the body shape/fitness level I prefer? Am I living the life I imagined I would be at 25? Since the answer to all these questions is, “Not Really,” I am kicking my own ass into gear. I am looking at who I want to be when I am 70. What do I want to be doing and to say I have done? Now is the time for me to lay that foundation and hearing stories from (older) writers encourages and excites me that all I want is possible, and likely more.
During this very challenging last year, which in some many ways continues to extend into 2021, it was easy to feel helpless, foolish, at a loss, and worthless at times. For those of us who thrive on interaction, and I most certainly do at least some of the time, the forced isolation caused me to question my value.
Add to that what appeared to be a wholesale condemnation of all of us grey folks, with politicians effectively asking us to give up the ghost and the rest of our lives for the Greater Good.
Many of my silver sisters went right back to work as nurses, including those who had just retired, and some of them lost their lives in service. So you will forgive me if I experience a sharp intake of breath at such a sentiment. But I digress.
What has been a lesson, though, is how many people 20 or even 30 years our junior are looking to us to see how we’re doing. Many of us, myself included, had no idea how carefully people were combing through our (my) writing for hope, ideas, perspective, and that most critical of life skills, humor.
I seriously doubt anyone found wisdom, but they sure found humor. Given that I picked up and moved to a different state during quarantine, which was in and of itself pretty stressful, I was forced to find the funny for my very survival.
Along with emergency kidney stone surgery, flipping my car at 65mph, smashing a pinky toe twice, getting my ovaries out, and trying to hold tight while fires raged around my brand-new place… well. And that’s the short list.
At 68, I do adventure travel, but that ended. And my income tumbled. AND I left friends of 50 years far behind. You get it. But along the way I continued to write, make fun of the fractured toe, the day I quite literally exploded a middle finger with a hammer while installing a serene Buddha carving in my new house.
Suffice it to say the following half hour was anything but serene, and after I cleaned up the blood and got stitches, I laughed so hard about it that I gave myself new stitches.
That is why humor is called a superpower. I wrote that story up, and people loved it. Little did I know that so many younger people were desperate for that very thing. From you, from all of us. They wanted permission to make fun of life’s vicissitudes, and that there was a way to choose to see differently. As Proust put it, with “new eyes.”
As you and I age, this is likely the most precious gift we can offer: how we have learned to understand what matters, what doesn’t, and how not to take things so very seriously. By this point, we do know that this too shall pass, whether it’s a kidney stone (my hand is up), a gall stone, or our time on earth.
In a world of foolish, fake influencers, people are desperate for authenticity. They want to know that as they age there is not only hope, but adventure, happiness, love, intimacy, and the entire array of life’s great joys ahead.
Sure, things grey, or we need thicker glasses. But with care for ourselves, a purpose, a group of trusted friends and a spot of luck, you and I can live amazing lives. If anything, passing the 60 milestone can be one of the most freeing events of our lives. That is succor to those who so badly need hope, who fear their aging selves, and all the (often untrue) assumptions about the ravages of age.
Even if you aren’t a professional writer, which I am, you can do so much. For example, in my local Planet Fitness, I see people using terrible lifting form which can lead to injury. I ask them if they would be willing to get a touch of feedback on how to protect their spines. I have yet to have anyone say no.
Not only that, these young women have been delighted that someone took interest. Now there is a growing community of people I get to air high five when I see them. This is an area where I have considerable expertise, and when it’s shared respectfully, that makes me a valued ally.
This may sound like a small thing. However, after having lived in Oregon now for going on nine months, and not being able to network and join clubs, the delicate tendrils of beginning friendships and friendly waves from people who are happy to see me makes the gym my community. I don’t feel so much like a stranger here.
They know perfectly well how old I am. In fact, that is part of why they are so welcoming. When older folks are removed from the community, there aren’t enough positive visual reinforcements and great stories that come out of people around us all the time. That’s one of the worst aspects of nursing homes and elder communities.
The realities of aging are out of sight, and therefore, to be feared rather than revered. So when you show up living a full life, you give lie to the notion of how it’s all downhill from here. For some, perhaps, but they’re on skis.
However, it starts with me. With you. Whether we know it or not, so many people want to know how we are handling life. They want hope. They want news from the “other side of 60.” They know that if they’re lucky, they too will arrive at that marker.
And while we can most certainly tell them to read Ashton Applewhite, it is ever so much more powerful to set a living example. You can write about it, make friends and involve people in your life, volunteer (or return to volunteer work now that things are revving back up).
You and I can be that beacon. We don’t have to be beautiful or rich or famous. We simply need to be living life on our terms. For my part, that is the very definition of success, which includes sometimes finding ways to come to terms with what life handed us.
That is wisdom, and that is what younger people so badly need. I lost my lifelong mentor at 91 five years ago. The day she passed I was in Egypt riding some pretty wild horses. In other words, I was living the way she had taught me to live.
There really is no better gift than such an example.
Ageism is real, but underneath that is a terror that what society teaches about aging is true. How we navigate those waters in the last decades of our lives isn’t just a gift to ourselves. It is our legacy.
People are watching us. They want hope. The best way to offer that is to be fully in life, and make room for new people whose lives are enriched by the way you live, love and laugh. I love finding those people. Learning from them. Telling their stories.
That is why I write, for in telling those stories, I too am reminded of why life after 60 is such a gift.
What has Covid taught you about how valuable you are to your friends and family, and how much you need them? In what ways are you engaged with younger generations so that they can learn from you? Do you have a favorite story to share? Please do!