On June 21st I turned 60. No, I am not looking for either applause or sympathy. Actually I realized that it became a moment for serious reflection.
When I turned 30 and, later, 40, those were moments that I found both thrilling and unsettling. There really is something called a “30s Crisis” when one is faced with making some very difficult choices about one’s life and path. It is a moment when you have to decide whether what you were doing in your 20s was play or whether it represented the first steps in a life-long journey. At 40 I realized that something had really changed. I had family responsibilities and excitement; a job with some authority and accountability; a reaffirmation of my political beliefs and commitments; and a nervous excitement about the future.
50 felt ‘interesting’, but largely uneventful. I watched as younger faces and voices emerged, sometimes repeating the same mistakes I had made; sometimes making other mistakes; and in still other cases, doing some remarkable and innovative work. I still, however, was not quite sure what I would do when i grew up.
And then came 60. I have watched some friends and associates disengage and prepare for some sort of retirement. Others, hoping to make retirement. And, ominously, others pass away. It has actually been this latter matter of death that has been so striking and affected me greatly this year as I approached the age of 60.
Within a period of 4 weeks several friends died. Other individuals of note passed from the scene. In addition to profound sadness, these ‘transitions’ forced me to consider my own mortality. But it also forced me to really think about priorities. As a result, “60” became a moment for reflection, much of which I did with the assistance of my wife. This birthday became a moment not to think about the end but rather the beginning. That is, to think about what needs to be done and what I, as a life-long social justice activist and writer, should be doing. How, in other words, to conduct myself so that I make a difference, or at least, help to make a difference.
This, then, became a great birthday. There was no party, and I did not want one. It was a beautiful day to walk, think, talk…to brainstorm and play. It became a moment to let ideas move around unencumbered by the “what ifs,” and the “you’re too old” type self-censoring.
60 is not the new 40, 30 or anything else. It is what you make of it. It is a reflection of how you see life, aging, and challenges. It is only a moment to pause on a journey that will hopefully continue decades into the future in good health and happiness.
20 thoughts on “Turning 60…”
Dear Bill, In Japanese culture, 60 is a magical, auspice birthday. Call “kanreki,” it’s the year one returns to age 1–having completed rotation around all 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac and 5 elements: 5×12=60. Your life clock is re-set, to be moved by new inspirations and to take up related challenges and opportunities. So, wishing you the very best, Comrade Bill fletcher, Jr.
with love respect, and all best wishes to you and all yours….
Fascinating. I did not know that at all. But that is precisely how this birthday felt. A peculiar sense of the process of resetting. In other words, i do not feel that the reset button has been fully pushed, but it feels as if it is the process of being pushed. Thanks so much for this.
60 is when I realized I shouldn’t try to read every book or article than struck my fancy, that I had to triage. Now that I’m in my 70s, I have to stop and think, ‘What are you really good at? How can you apply it to those things our socialist projects needs most?’ But I also remind myself, ‘The Bible gives us three score and ten. Since I’m past that, each new day is icing on the cake.’ Happy birthday, Comrade….
Very profound. Thanks so much. Life is good but also challenging.
this is new terrain, for sure. finally, it is getting interesting to me and not so threatening.
Bill, At sixty, I had yet to write my two books. You are likely to do 50% more from now on than what you did until now. Philip Reiss, author “Time Echo” & “Blue Eyes On African-American History: A Learning Adventure”
A little late but better late then never, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROTHER may you have many more. To me life got better after 60, now I am going to be 66 in September and it is still going great. So enjoy, and be happy that you are still around to enjoy it.
Your friend and brother
What a great surprise! Thanks so much. I like your attitude toward life.
Thanks for sharing this Bill – I too have been thinking along similar lines at 53, partially because of family and friends’ illnesses, deaths and retirements – many of the people I worked with were 10-15 years older than me. Also I think because of our recent CLC elections, the focus is very clear for me with what time I have left to influence and change things. I’ve always been a bit of an adventurer too and this time reminds me of some projects and trips I would still like to make happen and yet, I’m also utterly content and fascinated with my vegetable garden – the 1st for me in a long while and walking my newish dog Casey. Here’s to whatever we wish to do that makes our hearts sing, brings us joy and some fun in there too!
Nine months to go for me, but the number does make one focus and prioritize, assess and reassess. The changing perspective as the years go by is a universal experience that doesn’t seem to have been analyzed and written about in quite the depth as other parts of the human experience. Or maybe it has and I hadn’t been paying attention because it is such a personal and subjective part of one’s inner dialogue.
A birthday is also an opportunity for the community to celebrate an individual for who they are, and in that vein, Happy Birthday!
Actually it is something that is discussed and analyzed but, like you, i do not think that i paid enough attention to this matter of changing perspectives. Sometimes i think that we deceive ourselves into believing that there are things that will happen to others and not to us. In either case, it is so important to actually seize those rare moments to pause and reflect.
Happy Birthday Bill! 60 looks great on you! No matter where life takes you,..you’ll continue to challenge the system through your spoken & written words, & you will always educate & mentor others. It’s just your natural! Enjoy ride!
#BestMentorEver #experience&wisdom #the60chill
Wonderful of you to say this. Trying to play the role that you identify also comes with certain costs, something that is critical to appreciate and discuss so that one does not turn bitter. But trying to fulfill the roles that you identify goes to the core of who i am, as you know and as you wrote.
now we are in the last quarter of our life, carpe diem. Happy birthday Bill!
There’s a happy thought! 🙂
Most of the political work I’ve been doing has been with people I thought of as being near my age. A friend set up a luncheon meeting wit some local veterans of the local fighters for social justice. I walked into the restaurant and couldn’t figure out who I was looking for. The whole restaurant was filled with old people. My friend took me by the arm and introduced me to a table full of people my age or even younger.
Is this what I look like? Shock and disbelief! Then I thought I was glad to still be here. There is still much work to do..
There is, indeed, so much more that needs to be done. And it is that sense of urgency that i hold onto. It is also that sense of urgency that i find too often lacking in many social movements, such as the trade union movement. We do not have endless time.
I’m going wherever you’re going. After you briefly paused for personal reflection, I KNOW you were moving just as fast, just as booked up, during your first week at 60 as you were in your first week at 30. I heard a speech made by one of those departed brothers in which he called you the very definition of the working class’ organic intellectual. Can’t improve upon it — that’s why you’re my lodestar — so again, happy birthday.
Thanks so much for this tribute. It certainly means a lot to me.