Well, it’s one week until my 60th birthday. In a year full of transitions somehow this move from my 50s into my 60s seems like a big thing to me. The 10-year birthdays have always been significant to me. From the time I turned 20 this has been the case. I remember sitting at the kitchen table at my mother’s house and thinking that this was it … I would never be a teenager again. Not that being a teenager had been a piece of cake, but it seemed better than what lay ahead. I thought. I actually don’t remember so much about turning 30 but turning 40 involved a fabulous party thrown by my daughter Nili with some help from her brothers. At 50 I went on safari in Africa and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (even wrote about it on Journeywoman). All of those were transitions that involved some reflection and recognition but this seems different somehow. Why?
At 50 we can still think that we’re in “mid-life”; after all, lots of folks live to be 100. At 60 there’s no illusion left; even though there’s a common Jewish saying “may you live to 120” truth is … who expects to live that long? Not going to make it. Definitely I’m now on the finish-up part of life. More behind me than in front of me. For sure.
Okay, life moving along is part of it. But it isn’t all of it I think. Here’s the thing. I remember looking at the birthday cards I got when I turned 40. They all had messages like: “There’s one good thing about turning 40. Wait. No, I must have been thinking about something else!” In the end, they’re more sympathy cards than birthday celebration cards, communicating clearly that you’re over the hill with little left to offer. Yup, pretty much each and every card was a put-down about being older and insinuated that the best was past and that only the ravages of old-age lay ahead. I didn’t like those cards then and wondered why anyone would give someone else a card that was so negative. This is the same way that I feel about people who make speeches at weddings that make fun of the bride and groom; you know the ones I mean … where they talk about the rather foolish and embarrassing moments of your past? Don’t much like that either. Well, I haven’t received any birthday cards yet, but I’ve lost track of the number of times someone’s said something like: “So, turning 60 … are you thinking more about your mortality?” Indeed there’s a certain pressure that’s brought to bear when you turn 60, a message of aging and entering a decline and a period of life that’s to be dreaded. It’s as if there’s an expectation in this culture that turning 60 should be a sad time, a time of grieving for lost youth. Is this effecting me? You betcha!!
Thing is, I don’t really (mostly) feel old. Yesterday I went to the hairdresser and came home not only blonde but with both hot pink and purple streaks. That’s not old! I have bright fuschia nailpolish on fingers and toes; in fact I even have birthday cakes painted on my big toes. Nothing old about that either. The things that I do … kayaking, hiking, climbing mountains … well … they’re not the activities of an old woman either.
What I am mostly feeling these days is a kind of shedding of an old skin; a sort of metamorphosis from who I’ve been to who I am now. Little by little I’m letting go of things of the past and living more in the present with an eye to the future. Bit by bit, part by part, one thing at a time. It’s a tough process for me because I’ve never been one who’s been able to very comfortably sit with incertitude. “Holding the tension”, as Jung used to say … well … not one of my strengths for sure. And yet here I am still making my way from my life of work and professional responsibility to another life; one that’s not defined and clear (which is great … and frightening), one that’s full of possibility (also great … and frightening).
David and I are, indeed, throwing a 60th birthday party. 60 guests for a BBQ. There will be singing and maybe even dancing, lots of laughter, good food, good wine, good friends. I’ve been busy cooking and baking and preparing for some time now; my freezer’s jammed with hamburgers and veggie burgers and it’s a good thing I have an extra fridge in the basement. I’ve asked people not to bring gifts because there’s nothing at all that I need. What I have asked them to consider doing is making a contribution towards university tuition for the children of my friends/family in Kosovo. Some years ago, when Canada had airlifted Kosovar refugees and brought them here for safety, I became involved (as a volunteer) with two families that were living in Base Borden – an army camp about an hour from my home. I’ve remained close friends with them over the years even though they returned home as soon as they could. Here’s a picture of me with them when they were here. That’s my Kosovar sister Rahime and the three kids (Arsenal, Liridona, and Granit; I think that Nazife – the father – must have been taking the photo; we’re all a lot older now of course). Thing is, the situation in Kosovo hasn’t improved all that much, and raising even the $800/year tuition for each of them that’s necessary is just way beyond their means. I’m thinking that knowing I’ve been able to help these kids get an education and hopefully find a way to live easier lives is about the best birthday present I could get. Of course this does mean that I’ll likely have to plan a trip to Kosovo early this year so that I can deliver the money to them but I’ve been missing them a lot and spending some time with them is just another wonderful gift. Three days after my birthday we’re going to meet my sister Fran and brother-in-law Ed in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few days of birthday celebrating there. A number of years ago David and I had a fabulous holiday in Santa Fe but we were there before the Santa Fe Opera season opened so part of my birthday gift from David is tickets to the opera … in Santa Fe.
So why am I feeling so anxious? Why am I worried that this birthday party is going to feel more like a wake than a festive event? Why do images of impending doom keep flashing before my eyes?
Well, I guess that’s one more thing I’m just going to have to “sit with” for now. I’ll let you know later how it all goes. One more week. Seven more days. 168 more hours. Guess I’d better get out there and enjoy life while I can.