|Don’t adjust your dials… it’s not Bob Dylan… it’s me, still gracing my first decade.
I never really gave aging a whole lot of thought until I turned 59, then I figured I had a year…. a year for what, I’m not sure, but 60 was inching closer and it was beginning to present itself as a much bigger milestone than the decades preceding it. The whole decade change has always been kind of a big one for me, but it wasn’t turning 40 or 50 that gave me greatest pause, but rather, it was turning 30. It was a big, damn deal because in my young mind, 30 meant being a grown up to me, which meant that the fun was going to start taking a back seat to responsibility. This attitude left a whole lot of “finishing up” at the end of my 20’s, or at the very least, just minutes into my 30’s. My get ‘er done in your 20’s before real life hits philosophy is evident when looking back on my time line – graduated from college (finally…), got married, got pregnant, had first child… ALL when I was at the tail end of 29 and the very beginnings of 30. Of course now, on the eve of 60, 30 seems like puberty to me. Fortunately, I’ve lost the notion that life will end as I know it as a new decade comes on, but I must say, I’ve become a bit more thoughtful when it comes to the math of the decades.
Recently, while listening to the last free concert in the park in Frisco, CO, I was standing behind an older couple who I’m guessing were at least a decade or two older than me, but in this competitively athletic town, it’s kind of hard to tell. The man, armed with the latest iphone (good goin’ old man), was trying to video the band, but was getting frustrated because he kept videoing himself, even though he was holding the phone out in front of him and pointed directly towards the band, who was not all that far away from him in the small park venue. He was on selfie mode, but didn’t realize it. He’d make what looked like adjustments to his phone then would hold his camera out in front once again for several seconds to video, then would look at the screen and shake his head in frustration. I was close enough to see the videos and the mistake he continued to make, but far enough away that I couldn’t hear the comments he was making to his wife….that would be the wife who had her fingers in her ears. I guess the music was too loud for her. I doubt I would have given the whole scenario a second look a decade or two ago, but now, now on the heels of 60, I was having a hard time looking away. There was so much age-related vulnerability coming into play that I felt compelled to settle into the scene long enough to decide on an appropriate emotion… sadness, frustration, or depression. Although I know how to reverse the camera on my iphone, I’ve certainly done or haven’t done all sorts of things that have had all of my kids rolling their eyes and asking me to hand the phone over so they can “sort me out.” Technology is moving at a much faster pace than is our aging, which is pretty damn fast, and given that most of this is only a few decades old for so many of us, a little behind the technological eight ball is valid and something we hold in solidarity with those in our same age group. Thankfully, attitudes of caring what others think diminish a bit, but also thankfully, not entirely. A little bit of vulnerability keeps us humble but we traverse a fine line between pride and embarrassment when we expose that side of ourselves.
While on one of my favorite hikes a few days ago, a hike that is so beautiful that it’s difficult for me to contain my enthusiasm, I met a nice couple quite by accident. We had been doing the passing back and forth so many times since the beginning of the hike that at the 5th encounter, I felt compelled to say something, so made a comment to them about the hike. He had been on it before, she hadn’t. Each time we had passed, my eyes were drawn to her beautiful, long, silver hair, so along with my gushing about the views they would soon encounter, I felt compelled to give an appropriate shout out to her hair and with great enthusiasm and most likely a little bit of posture adjustment, I took off my ball cap to a sisterhood of silver hair gesture and proudly said,
“Your hair is so amazing…. I’m trying to do the same thing.”
I then turned around to give her a view of the back, my confirmation to her that it is still a work in progress as a good 8 inches of length is still brown. Again, syncing with the sisterhood of silver hair…
Her response to me had nothing to do with my hair and my subtle (ok, maybe not so subtle) nod to our connection on a “we’re almost soul sisters because of our hair” level. Rather, she expressed her excitement at finally doing this hike that she had heard so much about. Well that was not quite what I expected to hear from her, but whatever. We met again a few switchback later, and I’m not sure if it was the lighting, my exhaustion or the altitude (when in doubt, blame it on the altitude), or what it was that skewed my color perceptions, but her hair was not silver. She was blonde. Nope, not even a strand of silver in that blonde hair of hers. And to think that I had just taken off my cap enthusiastically as a connecting gesture, only to reveal sweaty, two-toned, not at all attractive, hat hair. I wanted to quietly back down the mountain, never to see them again, but instead began to talk incessantly to cover up my blunder, as my correction. She was (I’m guessing), 10 years younger than me and at that very moment, I felt like I was old enough to be her mom. OK, honestly, her grandma. I was the man trying to video tape the band but videoed selfies instead. Go figure. They’re from New Jersey. They drove. It took them 2 very long days. They spent the first night in Junction City. She is kind of afraid of heights. He’s cool with that. They might be married. They kind of want to move to Colorado. She has blonde hair, not silver. Lesson learned. Hold your enthusiasm until you’re sure you know what you’re talking about and then wait a few more seconds, just because. And if you mess up, really badly and don’t want to come clean, then talk. Talk a lot. Five more minutes and we would have been Facebook friends, another ten and we would have had dinner together.
I’ve come to believe with each advancing decade, that when you reach a certain age, numbers become far less relevant than how you feel, which has become so relevant in the very physically-active state of Colorado, where I live part time. Last winter I rode the ski lift up with two elderly gentlemen who asked me if I was alone, and if so, did I want to do some runs with them? Yes, I was alone, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend my afternoon doing runs with two 80 plus year old men (they shared their ages with me with pride). I guess in the back of my mind, I assumed they’d be too slow for me, although I’m hardly a fast skier. When they told me the runs they were doing, all bets were off… black diamond, back bowls.
“Ahhh, thanks, but think I’ll just do some runs solo… you know… alone time and all….”
In actuality, I could not have kept up with them… the them who were in their 80’s, while me, the kid in her 50’s. It gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t need to start eliminating things, but perhaps it was time to start adding to my list as I add another decade to my collection. I’ve got to be able to ski black diamond, black bowl runs in my 60’s if I’m going to do it in my 80’s right?
I like to be able to attach an event to each decade, the one that had the biggest impact on the 10 years for me and have to admit that I’m just a little curious as to the event that will mark my 60’s. My 20’s were my decade of exploring, making mistakes, being fearless, yet afraid of everything, while I began, unknowingly, to begin to forge my life path.
My 30’s, in my young opinion, were my big step into adulthood, which at the time meant finishing college (finally), getting married and having my first child. Bing, bang, done. My decade of change… or so I thought…
My 40’s were my decade of letting go of the lead and by default, letting my children lead. Their friend’s parents became my friends, their schedules became my schedules and long life friend bonds were forged. Oh, and my hair started turning gray, and while I went in every 6 weeks to cover up that secret, I honestly thought no one had a clue. Secret’s out now…
My 50’s were the decade that changed everything and my entry into it started with hurricane Katrina. I had divorced just days before my 50th birthday and set out on an unknown and very scary path, which had far more forging and exploring than I had anticipated and for that, I am now very thankful. I made a lot of mistakes, worried far too much, and seemed to learn every lesson the hard way, with the predictable pattern of reactionary hysteria, breathing, and eventually a slow recovery coupled with a lot of talking on the phone. Case in point, the explosion of my water heater a mere two weeks after moving into my new house and my new life. I’m still thanking my lucky stars that all of my photos that weren’t in albums were in plastic boxes. Nothing was lost but a whole lot was learned. That lesson started with me in a heap at the bottom of the basement steps, my head in my hands, my strength and my courage in another room. When sump pumps, water heaters or garage door openers go on the blink, I remember that girl that sobbed in a panic on the bottom step, not knowing who to call or where to turn. She grew a lot that night. Life felt unexpectedly hard, but was softened with several of Emery’s friends, armed with dry vacs and encouragement, and in the end, I became a whole lot stronger and added a good plummer to my phone book.
So… 60….a new decade and I can honestly say, a new women who is making the entrance. I gave myself a very impromptu birthday present this year and returned from Colorado a few days early to hear a speaker who I discovered on Facebook a few months earlier and have been in admiration ever since. Her name is Tao Porchon-Lynch and she is 96 years young, still teaches yoga and has a light and an energy that completely filled the room and had most of its occupants as entranced as I was, I’m sure. All bets are off on the thoughts of aging I had when I woke up to today – those pesky thoughts that being 60 is inching towards being old. Today, on the eve of my odometer clicking over one of the numbers that moves the slowest, I was flooded by the youthful messages from a 98 year-old yogi. Seriously, after being in her presence for 2 hours, coupled with the intimacy of the venue that allowed me to introduce myself to her and give her a hug, it’s amazing that at almost 60 years to her 98 years, that I’m even old enough to drive a car let alone all the other things that come with true adulthood. Next to her youthful spirit, I feel like I’m at the beginning, and right now, with so many wishes, hopes and dreams ahead of me, it feels like the perfect place to be. For that, Tao Porchon-Lynch, I thank you, with deep sincerity for the birthday gift that you have no idea that you gave me.
With each decade comes gratitude; the 6th bringing a bit more than the 5th and a whole lot more than the 4th or 3rd. I’m comfortably seated on my cushion of gratitude while I continue to adjust my sails to catch the best wind to carry me forward. It’s a good place to be and I can’t complain about the view.
Here’s to 60…to those who are there, those who have been there and those still to embark. Salud. Oh, and when you’re 60, you can do that, wishing yourself a happy birthday, that is. It’s a rule I made up just minutes into my new decade because adding another year to the toll is something we all should celebrate because we’re happy to be getting older, right? I certainly am.