I am staring down the barrel of a big birthday. This time next week, I’ll have passed a dubious milestone, and the fact is, right now I’m struggling a bit with the whole getting older thing.
Yes, I know the clichés. Even on my birthday, I only get a day older. Age is a state of mind. Growing older beats the alternative.
None of them is helping right now.
I remember feeling similarly ten years ago, as I neared my last milestone birthday. I was (and am again) acutely aware of being far closer to my dotage than to my youth. Since that last big birthday, I’ve lost a brother, watched as my older daughter battles serious illness, lost my mother-in-law and a brother-in-law, and more friends than I care to count. Life has been challenging, and at the same time wondrous and fun and rewarding, making it feel all the more precious.
Sometimes I write posts with a lesson in mind, or as a way of dispensing what little wisdom I might have. Other times, I write searching for answers. This post doesn’t fit neatly into either of those patterns. I have no wisdom today. I don’t know what lesson I might offer to myself, much less to someone else. And, frankly, I am not seeking advice from others. As I say, I know the platitudes. I am deeply grateful for all I have and all I have accomplished. And I am certain the answer for what ails me right now lies entirely within.
I think in part I am eager — impatient, even — to get on with the next phase of my life. Nancy and I have raised our children, we have enjoyed our careers, we have worked hard to set ourselves up financially for what we call “retirement,” although I don’t think it will really be a retirement in any traditional sense. I don’t intend to stop working, and while Nancy is ready for whatever might be next, she is also open to any and all possibilities in that respect. All I know is that I am looking forward to changing the pace of the life we share so that we can enjoy each other and the things we love doing together.
And so in a way, my resistance to this birthday is rooted in that impatience, but also in the understanding that the work we did to get to this point in our shared life took thirty-plus years and swooped by in a flash of laughter and love, struggle and grief. The time we have left to enjoy the fruits of that work feels potentially too brief by comparison.
When Nancy and I started dating (in our mid-late twenties), we told each other we would give the relationship eighty years, and if at the end of those eighty years together we felt the relationship wasn’t working anymore, we’d go our separate ways. Obviously, we said this with tongues firmly in cheek. But in all honestly, I want my eighty years. Every one of them. Right now, that romantic fantasy is bumping up against the reality of my 60th birthday.
I have written before of my emotional health issues. I have been candid about my struggles and also about the comfort and growth I have found in therapy. I have learned that whatever I am working on at a particular moment rarely impacts my mood and health in a vacuum. It’s all connected, even if I don’t always see the connections right away. I am certain my current hyper-awareness of my own mortality is tied to my brother Bill’s death five years ago, and also to my ongoing worries about my daughter’s health. I know it is connected as well to lingering professional ambitions and dissatisfaction with elements of my career path.
This is what I meant when I said the answers lie within. I know that next week I will only be seven days older than I am now, not a year. I know as well that the coming decade will be filled with . . . well, with life — with pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, good days and bad. Many have told me that they have LOVED life in their sixties. I intend to as well.
But to draw inspiration from the incomparable Ned Ryerson, I also know that first step is going to be a doozy . . . .
Have a great week.