I turned 60 a few weeks ago. As my birthday approached I got quiet and started listening. Other people were asking me how I felt about this “special birthday” and I seemed OK with it, but I really wanted to know. I have that habit of intense self-reflection: Did I feel old? Aged? Different? Any denial?
As many folks will tell you about 60, it’s the number not the age. Sixty sounds so old; that’s the big thing. And there is something to that because 60 was old when we were kids and our parents were that old.
But I’m finding something new that is creeping in with this significant number –I’m feeling a good kind of urgency in my life–and I think it’s a factor of not just my birthday and the number 60 but also from living in Cancer Land. The reason there is a cultural reaction to 60 is of course because in some way it does signify age—and the reason aging is a signifier is that it’s, yes, all about dying.
The mantra that arrived in my head about a week before my birthday is this, “If not now, when?” This birthday and this number 60 tells me that I do not have all the time in the world, so to quote Meatloaf, “What’s it gonna be?”
“If not now, when?” is asking me—when are you going to stop caring what other people think? And when are you going to do your creative work? And if you really do want to play the violin again, when are you going to make that call and get started? And a biggie: When are you going to dress only to please yourself—and what exactly—would that look like?
I like clothes a lot and so clothing is an easy language and symbol for me. I look in my closet and I wonder, “Do I really like my own clothes? Or do I own these so I can fit in, to be liked, to present a certain kind of professional appearance…“If not now, when?” am I going to change that?
But my wardrobe also confronts me at 60 in another slightly morbid but also invigorating way: There is a very good chance that most of the clothes in my closet will be there when I die. I buy good things and I keep clothes a long time so the rack of jackets and drawer of scarves I am looking at today is pretty close to what John and my friends will sort and pack after my death. I am looking at what they will look at, and it makes me ask, “Am I OK with that?”
I told this to one friend who was horrified but I swear it’s a very helpful perspective. At 60 it absolutely makes me ask: Am I clogs? Am I skinny jeans? And do I really need another leather bucket bag?
In this way I am enjoying the intensity and self-examination of sixty. We’ll see what the rest of the year—and my closet holds.