I’m sixty-three years old and in unchartered territory on this day of my birth.
• Old enough for Social Security, not old enough for Medicare.
• Old enough to be called “retired”, not old enough to be considered “an elder.”
• Physically (i.e., how I feel) too old for the Iron Woman Triathalon, but not too old for Advanced Yoga.
• Too old to want to be employed with those just entering the workforce, but not too old to submit articles to literary publications.
• Old enough to be a grandmother, but not too old to be childlike.
When I turned fifty, I made a video about that age. It included a status report on my body and mind — how both were doing. I documented my swollen joints, brown and white and pink spots in various places on my skin, and grey hair. Thirteen years later, I still have all those things, joints, spots, hair, in close to the same condition.
No longer do I have trouble sleeping. Come 10 PM, I head towards bed.
I actively sailed and biked, walked and did yoga. Since those mid-life years, my partner and I sold our boat and agreed, for safety sake, we only felt comfortable on a bike trail. I credit some of my active lifestyle to the new ceramic/titanium version of my hips and added Zumba, lane swimming, and weights to my exercise regimen.
Mentally, I feel about the same as I did thirteen years ago. I continue to read lots, forget words and the ends of sentences, make an effort at mindfulness. I was learning Spanish and accounting, both of which I’ve traded in for writing letters to my village board and congressional reps.
The change to my physical and mental status is volume, not quality. Though my capability for activity and thought seems as great as a dozen years back, my capacity to pull it off takes more time and energy than before.
Then again, who am I kidding with this stance that nothing’s changed? I’ve new wrinkles and aches. I’m more forgetful and intolerant. I have less sight, stamina, and patience and more frustrations. And I’m a curmudgeon for all things Christmas and politics. Worse, I hesitate to go. Will I get back before nightfall when my night vision no longer kicks in? Will I be the oldest one in the Power Yoga class? Does the Verizon guy hear my lack of techno-speak when I talk about my mobile?
And the worst, I’m revisiting all I haven’t done and want to, but question if I can.
In my “50” video, I interviewed individuals both younger and older than myself, gathering impressions of that middle age. Those younger said at fifty, I became “old.” Contrast that to the sixty-eight-year old who noted, “Forty-nine is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.”
A friend who is a Buddhist monk said a birthday is just another day. There’s no real difference between a birthdate and any other. Many people in the world don’t know their birthdays or don’t mark them special. For some, it’s due to literacy, for others, its lack of money to celebrate. And for still others, it’s a non-issue. From conception through birth to death, life’s a smooth stream with no pause for the moment of baby delivery.
For moving into my fifties and sixties, interviewees gave me advice:
“Keep your hair from going grey,”
“Do what you want to do,”
“Keep the good parts and drop the bad parts,”
“Define yourself, don’t let society do it,”
“Don’t relegate yourself to being just a consumer,”
And my personal favorite, “be childlike.”
I am prone to anxiety. I buy insurance. I plan three courses of action in case one bugs out. I data-gather to avoid pitfalls. For many years, I participated in activities meant to “save the world.” They helped me calm my unease. On some level, I believed those efforts would work.
Now, I doubt. I wonder how those of the next generation will survive. Will they make it through the next environmental event, win the class war, or negotiate a solution to the looming international crisis? Is my anxiety now fed by headlines, environmental disasters, or our challenged national institutions? Or, is it a function of my age, my sixty-three-year-old-ness? I feel jostled, buffeted, lambasted.
I look for an escape, an out. Childlike offers it. Childlike follows along the lines of “live one day at a time,” and “don’t let society define you,” It has greater import as the daily act of being childlike takes me, not backward to another place for worry, but forward. It delivers me to a moment of delight and indulgence.
Childlike are the actions we take for granted, we pass by, we say we’ll do later, we ignore for something more mature, we give to the children, we leave for another day. I don’t have grandchildren, but those who do take such delight in them and I wonder if it’s an excuse for them to revisit the moment of being childlike.
Many years ago, I picked up my four-year old son after he spent the day with his grandparents. Dad was in the kitchen, making chocolate muffins — a new activity for him after a lifetime of staying far from the role of food preparer. I heard my mother and son chattering and giggling, but it took some time to find them. They sat on the floor underneath the basement staircase. Mom held open the book The Adventures of Pinocchio. My son (though he now has no recollection of this entire scenario) blurted to me, “We’re bad boys!” and Mom explained the fake cigarettes they each held and rub-on tattoos they each wore were part of their role playing — helping them to take on the personas of the boys Pinocchio befriended. My eyes got big as the two brayed like donkeys, the outcome for really bad boys.
In the run up to my sixty-third year, I tried to channel my mother’s childlike spirit when I bought, not a small, but a large milkshake that offered calories I don’t normally allow myself. I hula-hooped at the Riverwest Daze —my competitive eyes locked in on a seven- year-old to beat for length of time keeping the hula hoop afloat. For fifty cents, I bought lemonade I didn’t really want from kids who opened a stand in the midst of their parents' garage sale. I danced disco when a fellow diner selected Barry White from the Waffle House jukebox. I laid on the grass and marveled at the clouds.
Today, the date of my birth — filled with memories of bonfire-roasted hot dogs at Huntington Beach, California. The ends of my greying hair gathered up by nine brightly colored hair clips; sturdy shoes sat abandoned by the door. I rolled the car windows down, and dialed up the music. Florida, not California. Sixty-three, not sixteen. I celebrated and ran with abandon through the surf on the beach.
J.O. is a social artist who writes and travels. She spent the last twenty years developing communities in multi-cultural environments. As a holder of a Masters in Fine Art and Visual Art, with an emphasis on conceptual social art practice, she is involved with marginalized groups. Among them dementia patients, farmers experiencing economic hardship in the mountains of Haiti and individuals unable to find adequate healthcare for a reasonable price in the United States. Her work has been published by Wising up Anthology, Evening Street Press, Fiction Southeast, HerStry, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Extra Newsfeed, Healthcare in America, Haiti Global and Stuff Dot Life.