Saturday 20 October 2012

I'm 60. Now what?

I've never forgotten a kids' version of Happy Birthday which ends with the lines "You look like a monkey, and you are one too." When I say kid, am I talking about 8 or 10 years old? I've been at family events where everybody sings Happy Birthday and after everybody has finished singing, I'll sing the last 2 lines of the kids' version as though I'm singing slower than everybody else. Not everybody seems to know this version. Beats me why, but I've known it for as long as I can remember and since not everybody knows the kids' version, I guess I'm not so much funny as just weird. Okay, not my best material; a legend in his own mind.

Sixty. Hmph. So the moment is here and this is what it feels like. Hmph. What was I expecting? I do realise however that to a twenty something, I am officially an old man. But just what the heck does old feel like? Are we back to the idea that age is a state of mind? Hey, my puffing because I'm winded or my vitamin supplements or the grey hair showing up in my beard isn't what I would call a state of mind. Nope this is the real deal. This is it.

A friend a few years back referred to us arriving at the age of 60 as entering the fourth quarter. While an interesting football metaphor, I pointed out to him that the fourth quarter is also the last quarter. There may or may not be overtime but I'd say to plan the game as if there isn't. Everything else is a bonus.

So how am I taking it?

I'm not pacing up and down wringing my hands if that's what you think, but I do have my moments when I'm freaked. I know this is a completely dumb thing to say but I sometimes wonder how I got here. Wasn't it just yesterday I was 40 and the day before that I was 25? Yes, I know, it's a funny ha ha thing to say but it's also a funny odd thing. Where did the time go? What the heck have I been doing all this time? What have I accomplished? I look up on my top shelf where years ago I cleared a space for my Oscar and my Nobel Prize and I note that the space is still empty and boy have I been remiss in my dusting.

I know it may sound morbid. I know that even mentioning this may come across as though I'm obsessing about it but it's more a question of facing up to it and accepting it. The other week I was talking with somebody who was 25 years old. During the conversation it occurred to me that when that person is my age, I'll be dead. Ha ha. ... Okay, maybe that is morbid. Maybe I am obsessing about this. Gimme a break! It's my mortality I'm confronting here!

I knew a while back, in my mid-fifties, that I probably wasn't going to take this too well, growing old I mean. Growing old? Ha ha, what am I talking about? I was older at 40; I was older at 50. But I guess I'm thinking that turning 60 is a bit more, ah, dramatic. Or is that melodramatic? When you're twenty you don't think about your mortality. If you don't think about it, it doesn't seem important. I've heard the joke that young people think they're going to live forever. I wonder. It seems more likely they just don't think about it period. That's a little different I'd say.

But me?

According to the statistics, the average life expectancy of a male is 81 years old. My father died just two days short of his 80th birthday. My mother died at 66 but that was from lung cancer because she was a smoker. So I would say it is reasonable to assume I have twenty or twenty-five years left. Just what the heck am I going to do with my time? Is there still a chance to pick up my Oscar and my Nobel Prize?

Some day I'm going to get the news. My doctor is going to tell me I have cancer and I have 6 months to live. I may have pains in my chest, end up in hospital, and be told I have 48 hours to live. The inevitable is going to happen sooner or later. How am I going to react? I spoke at each of the memorials for my parents. I knew the day would arrive when my parents would shuffle off their mortal coil and I had known it for such a long time that when the time came, I merely said to myself, "Ah, the moment has arrived." I wasn't surprised; I wasn't really broken up; I didn't cry. It was inevitable and here was the inevitable happening.

Several years ago, at the age of 57, I had an opportunity to talk (just once) with a counsellor of some sort who did a type of hypnotherapy. All very strange. In any case, I was mentioning about growing old, being worried about it, wondering about life accomplishments, etc., the type of stuff I suppose many think about at one time or another. His opinion? I'm not kidding; this is what he told me, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings. You're 57? What the f**k are you worried about? I'm 73!"

I haven't forgotten that. It's a good point. Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty? It's not about being young or being rich or being famous; it's about being content, happy, and comfortable in your own skin. ... I hate it when people tell me that. Don't you want to give them a cuff upside the head? Ha ha.

It's been an interesting past few years leading up to this moment. Interesting is code for turbulent. I discovered my boss was planning on firing me from my career job and while I've managed to stay on, I live under the constant threat of displeasing my master. Subsequently, I lost my way in life. I've panicked about growing old. I think I've occasionally been depressed and I have suffered from impotence. And now I'm divorced. Hmmm, is divorce just about the worst thing that can happen to you? Although I've heard getting caught in a woodchipper and having your arm ripped off is pretty bad.

In the spring of 2012, I suffered the worst sports injury of my life and spent about 4 months locked up in my apartment with pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I am now at the 6 month mark and much better, thank you very much, but have been given to understand this will take up to a year to get back to where I was. Gee, if I was worried about growing old, am I now worried about health? Believe me, if you ain't got health, you ain't got jack squat. Lesson experienced firsthand; lesson learned. I am going to do whatever it takes to ensure this never happens to me again. If I do only have 20 years left, I don't want to waste one minute of it going through this s**t again.

In 2010 I discovered writing and since June 2010, I've shot my mouth off in this blog. Who's reading? According to the stats and my Alexa score, not a lot but I figure I'll keep writing and wait for the world to catch up.

In 2011, I did NaNoWriMo and I'm planning on taking another crack at it this year. As the Chinese say, "the journey is the reward," so I'm not looking for a published book, never mind a bestseller, just a fun and interesting experience. Aim low, shoot high?

Final Word
So here it is, the 4th quarter. Do I throw a pass or do I kick? Do I call an end run or do I go up the middle? Three quarters of the game are over and this is the fourth and final quarter. Okay, I know I'm not going to get the Nobel Prize but will I get "my prize" whatever it may be?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
- Mary Oliver: "The summer day"; New and Selected Poems 1992

It's Saturday and I'm by myself doing a few odd jobs: cleaning the apartment, filing some papers, and jotting down some notes about my one wild and precious life. I'm 60. Now what?


Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
- Hunter S. Thompson

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
- George Bernard Shaw

The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating...and you finish off as an orgasm.
- George Carlin

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
- Henry David Thoreau

Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.
- James Dean

We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.
- Orson Welles

I intend to live forever, or die trying.
- Groucho Marx

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
- Steve Jobs

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
- Mark Twain


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A Political Junkie said...

Great posting. While I still have slightly less than a handful of years until I hit the big six-oh, I wonder how it will really feel when I hit the age that my grandparents were when I first became aware of them.

At least to some degree, aging is a state of mind; I can remember couples that we socialized with who were old at 30. That said, aging is a state of mind....until you injure yourself. It then becomes apparent that we don't heal like a twenty-something anymore!

Walker said...

First of all, Happy Birthday. It does indeed sound like the last 3 years have been challenging, to put it mildly.
I just turned 58. It's a mixed bag...I feel good at my age but I worry about the future and as a single woman I am occasionally rocked by fears about being alone and coping with all the nasty burdens of aging.

But, on a day-to-day basis, life is good. Sure, I move a little less assuredly when going up and down steps. And, I have the occasional ache and pain. Overall, this aging stuff seems ok. I anticipate another 20 years--why not, it's better than the alternative!

Pauline Gaines said...

I don't think of you as old. You're one of the most chipper people on the internet! But I do know that feeling of looking at the shelf where the Oscar's going to be.

ANd I do love those quotes. I think it's a tie between Mary Oliver's and Orson Welles'.