This month my wife and I quietly celebrated 45 years of marriage. We wished each other a happy anniversary in the morning, and were in bed by 9 p.m. That’s what happens when turning 60 is a dusty memory.
When I was a teenager I could only faintly envision my 20s. As each decade passed I was able to project a view of myself about 10 years in the future, but after that my inner compass sailed me off the edge of the world. I simply could not imagine ever belonging to the group I referred to in my youth as old farts.
Since most of you reading this column are younger than I am, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll give you a peek behind the curtain and tell you what to expect — including the things you can’t currently begin to envision — about getting older.
In general, entering your 60s is like finishing a 5K race. You’re tired, but you did it. You finished first or fifth or fiftieth, but you made it. For all that you didn’t achieve, there were still many, many successes you can be proud of.
But for now you’re still in the gladiator arena, and you’ve accepted the truth that life is an endless battle. Boy, do I remember what that was like. I battled for money, I battled for self-worth, I battled to provide for my family, I battled to be a decent husband and father. And I battled for my children during the years when they sometimes sloppily cut not just the cords, but the sinews and occasionally even the arteries that bound us together.
So many battles. You’re in the middle of them now, and from your view it looks like they’ll never end.
But one day you’ll notice that all your battles are, amazingly, starting to peter out. Your career is concluding. Your kids are launched with varying degrees of success into adulthood. And just like finishing a 5K, you’ll feel pretty worn out. But, also like finishing a 5k, your energy will return and you’ll be ready for what comes next.
And that’s the question you’ll face. What will you do next that’s actually worth doing? My wife and I are enjoying volunteering for humanitarian groups that appeal to us. I’m picking up occasional gig work, which I’ve enjoyed immensely — including dealing with the weekly deadline of a newspaper column, which, no matter how much you enjoy it, I enjoy more.
To all of you who wonder what it will be like to be on the high side of sixty, here’s the bottom line. You will gradually accept your body’s inevitable slow decline, just as you’ll accept the completion of the life you’ve lived so far with all its successes and failures. This doesn’t mean you quit or give up on life. Exactly the opposite. As the years pass you really do become wiser. You’ll see that at every stage of life you were limited in some way — limited in mature vision, limited by self-imposed distractions, or limited in available time. Now, your limitations are different, that’s all. But the good news is that the wisdom you’ve gained will be adequate compensation for all the experiences that now lie behind you.
The trick to getting older is figuring out how to harness all that wisdom. Use it well, and you’ll continue to grow in spirit and stature, even as your body shrinks a bit. Stay focused, mend what needs mending, help when you can, and you’ll be a blessing to everyone around you.
And finally, if you’re as lucky as I am and still have the love of your life at your side, fight to stay as close as you can to each other. With great familiarity can come great comfort and love. Someone once said that love means never having to say you’re sorry — which is ridiculous. Some days that’s about all I do. Here’s the truth: In your later years, real love is going to bed at 9, and waking up in the morning happy to have another day. Ace that one, and you’ve got it made.