This one is considerably more “edgy” than the previous post. I was going to hold off on it, but there has been such a great
response to “But I Don’t FEEL Sixty . . .” that I have decided to go ahead and put it out now.
I’m eating lunch with my friend Marlena, sitting next to a window streaked by the chill November rain, our umbrellas dripping against the wall.
“Remember our conversation last time?” she says, “The week after my sixtieth birthday party?”
“Of course I remember,” I say – we had talked about attitudes toward getting older and self-fulfilling prophesies.
“Well, it really helped, what you said. I was starting to get bummed out, you know? And you got me onto the right track. Only a number, right?” She laughs.
I smile and nod. “Always happy to shed a little light into this dark world,” I say, hoping she’ll catch my irony and not think I’m being, like, arrogant or anything – Marlena picks right up on those things. But no, she’s still smiling.
“I still think about that conversation,” she continues. “And the other day it hit me.”
“Yes?” I say, my question mark hanging over the table between us.
“It just hit me – what comes next.” She smiles, end of thought, as if somehow I should know what she intends.
“Um, what, Marlena,” I say.
“Sixty more!” she says, spreading her hands. “Sixty more.”
“Uh, Marlena”, I say after a long pause. “Sixty more would make you a hundred and twenty.”
She nods rapidly, smiling.
“I read in the paper, a few years ago, where a woman died at a hundred-and-twenty-two, the oldest person in the world, I think. She was blind, deaf, toothless, couldn’t walk, could barely sit up. Not pretty. I don’t think I’d like that,” I say.
“Yeah, most people say something like that,” she says, sounding a little disappointed. So much for me being a visionary. “But I don’t think it has to be that way, if you keep yourself in shape and maintain the right attitude, and with a little help from modern medicine.” She looks up and grins.
“But that’s not even what I’m trying to get at,” she continues, “— the possibilities do exist now, of remaining healthy and vigorous at really advanced ages. The whole point though, for me, is how do you look at your life?”
I nod, in listening mode now.
“So the question I ask myself is, ‘How would my life be different if I expected to live another sixty years?’ How would I feel that was different? How would my outlook change? What would I do differently?
“Right now, most people my age are expecting to live maybe another twenty, or thirty years at most. They want to retire; they want to stop working or not work so hard. And travel more. They’ve got bucket lists – places to see, things to do before they get too decrepit, before they die. They are winding down, disengaging from life, disinclined to take on anything new. Patch up the old as best you can, ‘cause you’re not going to need it much longer. Right?”
“That’s right,” I agree. What she’s saying is pretty much how it is. “So what’s wrong with that?” I say. “I’m tired of working forty or fifty hours a week. I want to read more, to garden, play more tennis. And yes, I do want to travel – never really did get to do much of that.”
“Nothing at all wrong with that, but your financial planning is going to need to be much longer term, if you’re not planning to be feeble or die at 85. So you’re probably going to need some kind of income. The thing is, being able to work as much or as little as you want to or need to.” She pauses. “So what if – what if you really think you might have another sixty? What would that be like – for you?”
“Hmmm,” I say, thinking. “It would sort of be like being a twenty-five-year-old, expecting to live to eighty-five, wouldn’t it. But not exactly the same. I don’t think I’d be going to clubs, thinking about starting a family, or starting a career.”
“You might be thinking about starting another career,” she says wryly.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I say. “Actually, I just did that three years ago, and who knows, I might do it again someday.”
“And you have a family, but what about someone else who doesn’t? They could start one in their sixties – why not? They could adopt or be foster parents, perhaps, if they couldn’t or didn’t want to make babies. And with sixty more years, expect to see them grow up and then some.”
I’m starting to get into this idea. “One really great thing about it would be that you’d have more time,” I say. “Those things that you wanted to do when you were younger, but didn’t get to – you still could. Maybe not play in the NBA, but you could go to med school at seventy and still expect to practice for thirty or forty years. I could be a paleontologist someday, like I had wanted to be when I was twelve. Learn to play the violin. Live in South America for a while.”
“You could write that novel, maybe a bunch of them. Run for office,” she says, smiling. “There would be plenty of time. Space out that bucket list – there’s no hurry.”
“But hold on,” I say, my enthusiasm suddenly flagging a little. “What if I don’t live sixty more years? You know, they always say, ‘Live every day as if it were your last.’”
“If you don’t, well – you don’t. None of us really knows when we’re going to go, right? I think that saying means, ‘Don’t put off the really important things.’ That applies no matter what age you are. Have your affairs in order. That old friend you’ve lost contact with – look her up. Never know how long she’s going to last. The important thing is not the fact of sixty more years, it’s the attitude – it’s a whole nother way to look at your life. Don’t assume limits if you don’t have to.”
“I’m starting to see what you mean,” I say. “How would it be different?”
How would your attitude toward life be different if you expected to live another sixty healthy years past your sixtieth birthday? How would that feel? What would you do differently? Think about
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