“How do I confront aging? With a wonder and a terror. Yeah, I’ll say that. Wonder and terror. “ Keanu Reeves
In sixty days, I turn sixty years old. That statement of fact can be wrapped in a variety of internal subtext: numbers don’t mean anything, I’ll only be a day older than I was the day before, sixty is the threshold of senior citizen, and a whole list of other responses and emotions. Whatever bow I wrap around it, the fact stays the same. I will be sixty in sixty days.
Point out all the examples of vibrant old women you know: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Betty White, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda–all worthy role models. When I was twenty, I was not walking paths similar to what they were (or walking runways, either), and their bodies and lives at fifty were radically different than mine at fifty. As inspirational as they are to me, my sixty won’t look like theirs, and my seventy or eighty won’t, either.
My images of old age come closer to home. My great-grandmother, a bitter shut-in, lived with my family from the time I was ten. She died after I had gone away to college. My grandmother spent her last few years in a nursing home, often fractious from the ravages of dementia. Woven in my history is the daily experience of living with failing bodies and minds. My twenty wasn’t like theirs, either, and my fifty was worlds away from theirs. Trusting that their experience will not be mine is logical, but believing that means fighting a creamy emotional filling that I digested decades ago.
When I was a child, Andy Griffith’s “Aunt Bea” was old. I am currently two years older than Frances Bavier was when she began that role. Later in my life, The Golden Girls were heralded as full of life “older women.” At the beginning of the series, the sexy, fun older woman, Blanche (played by Rue McClanahan), was seven years younger than I am now.
I can offer evidence that culturally, I’m not really that old. A coworker suggested that my latest attempt at learning computer programming should be a countdown clock to the arrival of the Dungeons & Dragons-based game I recently supported on Kickstarter. Would an old person do that? I’m planning another solo tent camping trip this summer somewhere that I have never gone before–the “girls” I go out think that is foolhardy and dangerous. Right now, I’m in better shape physically, emotionally, and financially than I was at age fifty. (Rereading this paragraph, my gut reaction is “Methinks I doth protest too much.”)
However..I see the crepey skin on my neck. I debate if (when) I will stop fighting nature and let my salt & pepper hair take over–and I know there is not much pepper left. The night Peter Tork died, I had a couple shots of whiskey in his honor as I listened to “Auntie Grizelda.” President Kennedy’s death and Watergate are embedded with my worldview, and both the invention of birth control pills and the bafflement as my college friends were among the first AIDS victims are bound with my sexual history. I cannot ignore that the Baby Boom is going out with a whimper, and I am part of the last cohort.
So how am I confronting this? Just like Kenau Reeves said, with Terror and Wonder. Turning sixty is not bad. It is not good. It just is. Finding out what my sixty will be–since I can’t be Rita Moreno and I don’t have to be my bitter great-grandmother, will only have as much terror and wonder as I accept.
I process events and emotions through writing. For the next sixty days, I’m going to use a variety of quotes, memes, poems, songs—who knows what all I will find–to consider and process what lies ahead. I’m tossing these words out on the wind, hoping that maybe, just maybe, in hopes I’m not the only one looking head with terror and wonder.