I had a good time turning 60. So did all my friends. Everyone had a party. My husband’s party had a cowboy theme. We all wore jeans (his favourite mode of dress) and chowed down on gourmet chili. A friend of ours (an actual cowboy) recited a poem he’d written, an ode to life and friendship. No riding into the sunset for us. We intended to ride on forever!
We went to so many 60th birthday parties that I got bored with them. I should have been more appreciative. Now that my friends are turning 65, the celebrations are few and far between. At 60, you can still pretend you’re in the middle of your life. At 65, you are officially a Senior Citizen. You can joke about it all you like, but that’s a fact.
My husband turned 65 in January. “Would you like to have a party?” I asked him in December. “Or should we blow it all on a trip to New York?”
He said he’d think about it. Eventually, I realized what he wanted was for me to shut up about it.
Marketers with condos, magazines and financial services to sell have made strenuous efforts to rebrand the seventh decade of life as a sort of second blush of youth, only with silver hair and more money. The trouble is that no matter how positive your attitude, the indignities start piling up. The other day, my husband went to the drugstore. “You should have been here yesterday,” the sales clerk told him. “It was Seniors Day. Ten per cent off.”
The thought of Seniors Day at the drugstore – which now stocks more adult diapers than baby diapers – is undeniably depressing. More depressing still is that people think you’re eligible for it.
My friend Hugh (who looks 10 years younger than he is) remembers those years when he was carded in bars and liquor stores because they thought he was too young. Now he longs to be carded. “Please card me!” he begs silently when he requests a seniors’ movie ticket. But no one ever does.
I tell him not to get upset. If you’re under 30, everyone over 60 looks the same, and vice-versa.
We are the luckiest senior citizens the world has ever seen. For most people we know, the lines have blurred between middle age and old age, between our working years and “retirement.” Some of our friends are happily working into their 70s. My husband works with people who are two or three decades younger than he is, some of whom have taken to calling him “Pops.” He loves it.
He dreads that every contract will be his last. (I dread it more.) Our friends still work and bike and ski (though not, perhaps, as vigorously as before). To avoid that ugly pattern-baldness look, the men shave their heads. They look just the same as they did 20 years ago – until, one day, they don’t.
The other day, I ran into a guy I’ve known for almost 30 years. I’ve always thought of him as very cool. He had started growing a post-Christmas beard. And suddenly he didn’t look cool. He looked old. The same thing happened with another man I know, who had a wicked bout with cancer. It drained the vigour out of him. One year he was young, and the next year he was old. And even though he’s better now, he’ll never be the same.
After you turn 60, mortality is something you’re forced to contemplate, whether you want to or not. The actuarial tables are no longer an abstraction. You can’t escape the fact that, no matter what you do, the rest of your life is alarmingly short. It’s about the same amount of time you’ve put in since you were in your 40s, which was the day before yesterday.
Sixty may be the new 50, and 70 may be the new 60, but 20 or 25 years from now you’ll arrive at your final destination pretty much on schedule. And no one has yet rebranded death.
Why am I so bothered when I see my friends suddenly looking old? Because that could happen to me, too. Maybe it already has. I’d probably be the last to know, because I feel much like the same person I was at 16, 36 or 50. I now know that all old people feel that way. And so we fool ourselves that getting old is something that happens to other people, not us. As my 89-year-old mother-in-law recalls, “I couldn’t admit that I was no longer middle-aged until I turned 70.”
My husband is a chip off the old block. Last week, he made the mistake of buying seniors’ subway tickets. These tickets are massively inconvenient because you have to tear them apart along the perforations. You can’t put them in the turnstile like a token and, if you’re in a station without a fare box, then what? Worst of all, each ticket is imprinted with a large red “S.”
“It’s a scarlet letter,” he groused. “Everyone can see it.” He says he’s never buying them again.