Like the millions of other people born in 1956—at least those of us who’ve made it to 2016—I am turning 60 this year.
Yes, I realize it’s “just a number,” with as much or as little significance as any other, except for the fact that maybe I’ll qualify for a few additional discounts on goods and services from here on in.
But attaching significance to our ages is pretty much a lifelong tradition, from the time we enter our “terrible twos” to our “sweet sixteen” (which was disappointingly not as romantic as advertised in song lyrics) to reaching “adulthood” at eighteen (hey, back then, we could vote and drink!).
Many of us reached age 30 wondering how we got there without meeting our own expectations as to whom or where we’d thought we be, and received black balloons and our first old age joke cards at 40.
So now I’m going to turn 60, and it just doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I mean that in a good way.
Sure, my body creaks and sags in places where it never used to, as I haven’t been keeping it in top-notch condition in recent years. And there isn’t a facial cream in the world that can erase the fine lines on my forehead, the crow’s feet that bracket my eyes, or the deeper crevasses that have formed at the corners of my mouth. At least not one that I’ve found yet.
It’s just that I thought 60 would look and feel older than it actually does.
A large part of that probably has to do with the generation that I’m a part of. Or maybe even the part of the generation I was born into, as I’m not sure my two older brothers felt the same way when they turned 60, six and eight years go. But because Baby Boomers began questioning, then testing, then breaking the rules that they saw as arbitrary or meaningless from the get-go, why wouldn’t we do the same regarding the aging process? Who says that 60 needs to look or feel a certain way? So there we go, rebelliously, as we march toward Medicare eligibility.
Perhaps, too, we’re aging differently than our parents because of all of the amazing advancements in health care, medicine and technology that’s been developed, invented and made available to us that didn’t exist, in many cases, even 20 or 30 years ago—many of which resulted from the efforts and ingenuity of fellow boomers. We know so much more about the body and the brain now, which allows us to take better care of them if we so choose. We have better diagnostic tests, better information on nutrition, better meds. We have gyms and organic foods. Smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and stores.
We also have better cosmetics and skin care products than our moms did. We have Rogaine and retinol. We even have Dr. Oz, who snuck into our generation in its final year.
But what I find most fascinating about turning 60 is how I feel mentally. I thought I would feel older, and I thought that feeling would not be a pleasant one. I now believe that is due in large part to looking into the weary eyes of my parents’ generation and thinking that would also be my destiny. My parents, who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War, while us younger boomers skipped the war scene altogether—the Viet Nam conflict ended when my classmates and I turned 18. Small wonder that so many members prior generation looked, to me, bone tired. Looked older than I feel, now that I’m their age.
I guess that’s really it. Upon turning 60, I feel immensely grateful for being born and growing up when I did. Sure, my fellow 60 year-olds and I have also seen—and continue to see—our fair share of pain, hardship, loss, mankind’s seeming endless ways for treating each other inhumanely. Indeed, I’m no Pollyanna.
But I also feel that, in many respects, some of which I’ve captured above, we grew up at an amazing time, a time full of miracles, of new ways for us learn and grow, to help, protect, serve and honor one another. And I believe that those of us who are fortunate enough to have reached 60 relatively unscathed have unprecedented opportunities to assist, encourage or even inspire those around us, across town, a time zone away or around the globe. The 60 year-olds of my youth had none of these.
There is so much more I can say about “growing up boomer,” experiences and insights I would like to share with those Gen-Xers, Ys and millennials who might be interested, or compare and contrast with others around my age. Maybe there’s a book to be written. Or more blog posts down the road.
I don’t know what the next life stage will bring. But what I do know is that, when I look in the mirror, those crow’s feet encrusted eyes of mine don’t reflect weariness or defeat. More often than not, I smile at my reflection, a smile springing from a pleasant memory, a joke I heard the day before, the outlook of meeting friends for lunch, or learning something new during the day ahead.
I smile because the Rogaine is working, and maybe, to some extent, so is the facial cream. The jury’s still out on that.
Yes, turning 60 isn’t at all what I expected. And that’s alright with me.