Life in the 50s: Turning 60

If our forever young generation couldn't accept turning 50, how are we going to face 60?

party time 88 (photo credit: )
party time 88
(photo credit: )
My friend Yoram, well into his seventh decade, says, "Life begins at 60." Jon, who turned 60 last October, says it's been his best year yet; he thinks it's coincidental. But many baby boomers feel life is only getting better. They are experiencing many firsts - Jon sang at a wedding for the first time, another friend is making her first documentary, another started a new business. They are fighting themselves less, becoming themselves more. It's a good thing because 60 is right around the corner. In fact, this is the last "Life in the 50s" column. In Jerusalem is heading in new directions, as am I: In a few short months, I will be leaving the 50s behind. If our forever young generation couldn't accept turning 50, how are we going to face 60? Sixty is your grandmother, not someone who is still learning and growing; 60 wears respectable clothes, not T-shirts and sneakers; 60 is staid, not brimming with life. As with everything else we've laid our hands on, our generation is reinventing the seventh decade of life. Approaching 60 makes you acutely aware of time - or the lack of it. Suddenly, we are faced with the fact that we no longer have an unlimited number of productive years ahead of us. It was always so, but some of us managed to keep that unwelcome fact hidden from ourselves. With the big 6-0 looming, that is no longer an option. The question now: How best to use the time remaining? My brother Leon, who is turning 70, put it succinctly: "Turning 60 is a milestone. You have to re-think your life, your priorities." Indeed. The realization of mortality can be scary but also exhilarating. It can galvanize us into looking deeply at ourselves, our lives, at what we really want. With the kids mostly grown and the career in place, we can stand back and ask, what now? What do I really want to do with the time remaining? In a Harvard Business Review article, "The existential necessity of mid-life change," Arie Ruttenberg and Carlo Stranger put it this way: "Roll up your sleeves. Mid-life is your best and last chance to become the real you." To make the most of the time left, some have turned to making lists. Several months ago, the New York Times Magazine ran a piece on life lists. Given that baby boomers are turning 60 and being slapped with the cold towel of mortality, it doesn't surprise me that making a list of what we want to do before we die (there's that word) has become a popular pastime. And with nearly 80 million of our cohorts in the US alone, it's not unusual to see echoes of what we are thinking and feeling in popular culture and the media. The article profiled people with more than 100 items on their list (build a house for Habitat for Humanity, read Pride and Prejudice, earn a master's degree, swim with dolphins, etc.). The article calls the life list a "road map for life." Not a bad idea if you want to prevent your life from slipping though your fingers before you've done the things you want to do. Before anyone heard of life lists, children's book author Barbara Cooney wrote the wonderful Miss Rumphius. We meet our heroine as a little girl listening to stories at the feet of her seafaring grandfather. After hearing of his adventures in far away places, she decides she wants two things in life: to see the world and to live by the sea. Her grandfather tells her there is one more thing she must do: Add beauty to the world. Miss Rumphius (an unmarried children's book heroine!) makes friends with tribe members on a South Sea Island who tell her, "You will always be in our hearts." She buys a cottage by the sea and walks around scattering lupine seeds. The other morning, as I was sweating on the elliptical machine at the gym (building those knee muscles to help support worn cartilage and trying to reduce cholesterol), I had my own Miss Rumphius moment. I realized I wanted the rest of my life to basically be about two things: loving my family as best I can and bringing my share of beauty, meaning and understanding to the world. But I also want to make films, write a play, travel in Africa and the Far East, go back to the piano, learn photography and German and Amharic and Arabic and... and... and… As much as I don't relish being part of a trend, I think it's time to start that list. I want to thank "Life in the 50s" readers for letting me be a part of their lives these past couple of years. I hope we "meet" again. If this column has proved useful in your life, I'd love to hear about it. [email protected]