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.