At this point in our lives, we don't celebrate our birthdays, but they certainly make us more thoughtful. We've reached the point where we're aware of our own mortality. I hope that doesn't sound gloomy because it's not. We're quite happy and content, pleased with how our children have launched themselves into the world, happy to still have my parents with us, still facing challenges in work and on the farm. Life is good.
Which is why this article struck a chord: "Who was happier at 60?"
The author, Liz Jones, just turned 60. And my goodness doesn't she look fabulous:
Ms. Jones contrasts her incredible fitness at 60 with her mother's health at the same age. Her mother had gray hair, false teeth, arthritis, and hip and knee replacements.
But her mom also giggled at life. She never wore a swimsuit, but she happily limped to the beach and sat on the sand with homemade rolls and watched her seven children romp in the water.
In fact, Ms. Jones was "terrified" to look like her mom at the same age, and spent her entire life fighting it. She writes:
I’m the same dress size as when I turned 16. You can tell I’ve dedicated my life not to raising a family, or giggling, but to being 'beach body ready.' Effort is etched on my face. I’m anxious, too: do my arms look fat? Is my hair, dyed fortnightly from the day I turned 25, looking crispy? I only have a half-smile because, if I’m not smiling a little, my face falls. My teeth are veneered, not false. I don’t hobble; instead I walk and run, every day, for miles: a good thing, certainly. But all I can think when I look at the photo of me is my God, how exhausting, and how desperately unhappy. How lonely, too.And therein lays the sad part of this article. Ms. Jones looks like a woman half her age. But how long can she keep this up? When she's 80, will she look like she's 40? What about when she's 90?
I’d been dreading my 60th (Wednesday was the Big Day) from the day I turned 50. It has loomed, large and dark, like an empty grave, because I fear it will mean the death of all I’ve strived for: to be desirable, sexy, fashionable, in and certainly not out. I don’t want to be invisible. I really, really don’t want to be old.
I’ve tried to buy into 60 being the new 40, and how liberating it will be to not feel obliged to Hollywood wax, but the truth is I know I will continue to battle to keep the years at bay. Why? Because I’m not where I should be: I’m single, not secure, not loved. I can’t relax. I have to keep trying.
Contrast this with her mother, who looked -- arguably -- older than her 60 years. Yet her mother giggled at the beach. She made homemade rolls for her seven kids. She had a husband who adored her and helped her put on her socks since she could no longer reach her feet because of the arthritis. She had already had a hip replacement and a knee replacement. "She was in constant, excruciating pain," noted Ms. Jones. "And yet she is smiling. ... She didn’t dread her birthdays, as I do. She never mentioned the big Six-O or expected a fuss; she probably spent the evening ironing."
Ms. Jones was a career woman, a journalist and a former editor at the beauty magazine Marie Claire. Yet in this painfully honest article, she asks who is happier at 60 -- her or her mom? "My mum was content with her lot, she lived in the moment, she didn’t put off life," noted Ms. Jones. "My overriding feeling, as the Big Day [her 60th birthday] came and went last week, was that my generation of women was sold a lie. We were told our mothers’ lives were disgracefully submissive. We were told we must battle our bodies into submission, land a career in order to hold all the power. Problem is, a great job doesn’t bend down each morning, without a murmur, and pull stockings gently over toes, as Dad did for Mum."
Don is the one who read this article and sent it to me. "You're given a limited lifespan," he observed, "and you're given seasons within that lifespan to accomplish things: marriage, children, retirement. One of the lovely things about having faith is knowing growing older is supposed to happen. No one will be 120 years old when you're standing before the throne. Everyone is immortal at 20. No one is immortal at 60."
My example for aging was set by my mother, who is almost exactly 31 years older than me (our birthdays are three days apart). My mom never fought her gray hair, she embraced it (she would instruct her hair dresser to cut her hair to show the gray to advantage). She and my dad rolled with the punches of life and got back on their feet. Now, having just celebrated their diamond anniversary, they move slower and take great care not to fall. But they're content and satisfied with their lives. What's not to admire? Sure, my mom has wrinkles. But you know what? She earned those wrinkles. They're beautiful.
Don led a rather "wild'n'crazy" life as a young man, before we met. He tells me I wouldn't have liked him at 20, and he doesn't think God would have either. "God blesses people who managed to make it into their 60s," he said, "because He's given us time to make up for our earlier shortfalls. To get square with God can’t happen if you can’t contemplate your own mortality. Since everyone at 20 thinks they’ll live forever, it takes age to acquire the wisdom to know they’re NOT immortal. Growing older is a gift -- if for no other reason it allows us to focus on the next life, not this one."
Ms. Jones apparently spent her whole life desperately trying to stay within one "season" -- her young adulthood. By obsessively focusing on staying a perpetual 25, she's missed the other, more mature seasons that come with life: stable marriage, having babies, raising kids, empty nesting, grandkids, and finally rocking on the back porch, watching the sun go down with a beloved spouse. She bypassed this so she could pretend she's forever 25.
At least she's smart enough to realize who was happier at 60 -- her mom. I sincerely hope she starts to contemplate her own mortality -- a cheery thought, not a grim one -- and gets square with God.