Turning 60: Adolescence Revisited
As I dip into the sixth decade of my life with the growing consciousness of one who is aging, an awareness that frequently startles itself with the longing to be young, I feel the impossibility of summation or balance in my thinking, and a ground swell of questions and contradictory thoughts. This dilemma in contrast to the mid-life crisis of my 40’s is a somatically driven realization of a changing biology: a personal evolution pitching spirit/soul against soma, where the ultimate dialectics of Being wrestle their near final bout: body aches contend with ambition, desire dusted with new parameters, and a passing thought that this upheaval, this graying sturm and drang is adolescence revisited. Ah to be young again…but in an aging body: curse, blessing, and ironic twist of life?
The irony of this belated coming to age is irrepressible: after years of struggling to come of age, which often translates into fumbling efforts to realize one’s idealized version of self, one reaches a certain psychological summit. One might naively assume perspective comes from such a perch. Yet experience of having been young colludes with self-deception to sustain the internal perception of youth. This subjective baseline transports one through life’s stages, forever tempting one with illusory possibilities.
As I approached 60, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering how people perceived me. Did I look old was the question I often asked as I sat down at a restaurant, or at a professional meeting. The puzzling counterpoint was represented by my internal self-image of a young man. I would look at people who appeared younger and see them as older. I knew the self that looked out represented a perennially young, distorted state of mind. Over time, I realized that my self-consciousness was an integral part of coming to terms with aging. I was slowly internalizing my age: I am 60 not 40, not 50, but 60. When I caught myself peering through my youth-tinged glasses, I performed this corrective.
Acceptance has never been an easy task, and yet never so compatible with development than at this stage of life. The aging process speaks through a language of aches and complaints that pose a series of unavoidable existential questions and create a gradient of difficulty that youth ill-prepares us for. Coming to terms with one’s age involves engagement with one’s aging body, the limits that it imposes, and reconciling this body with one’s mercurial psyche.
Acceptance is a process and not a singular event. Realizing that I am 60 solved one problem: I understood what I was not. This helped me to reel in my efforts to recreate youth and helped in adjusting my expectations about what I could and could not do. Closing the door on youth opened another door full of questions. What does 60 mean? What can I expect from 60? What is unique and emergent at this stage of life?
My enthusiasm rubs against cautiousness. My historic diet of apprehension feeds on it’s old self leaving me hungry for new, “age-appropriate” adventure, not for youthful recreations, but to discover what can only be realized at a certain point in one’s life when one understands there are diminished abilities and lost possibilities.