Touch of Grey*

“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

Do you remember when you were a small child and you measured your age by months or halves to make yourself sound more grown up? “I’m five and a half,” you would say. Or, “I’m almost seven!” when your birthday was still months away? I do.

At some point, probably after I turned 18, I finally stopped measuring my age in fractions. Until recently.

You see, I’m going to turn 60 in a couple of weeks. And I’ve been eagerly anticipating my birthday for the past six months or so, just like I did when I was a child.

Sixty is certainly a milestone birthday, one of the biggies, like all of those with a zero in them.

I was depressed for months before I turned 50. I saw it as the “over the hill” birthday, the beginning of the end, the mile marker of my mortality.

So, why isn’t my impending 60th affecting me the same way that my 50th did? Why does, “I’m turning 60,” make me feel joyful, not fearful?

I attribute this attitude shift to wisdom and experience. (Yes, the very things that people associate with ageing.) And to making a conscious effort to create the life I feel that I’m supposed to be living as opposed to the one that people expect me to live.

In recent years, I have become more authentically “me.” (As a Buddhist, the concept of “I” is tricky, so let’s stick with the more mundane definition for this post.)

  • I wrote, and recently published, Faith without Labels: a Guide to Eclectic Spirituality, which encourages readers to examine their current religious/spiritual beliefs and gives them the means to methodically process their findings through a comprehensive workbook.
  • After practicing mindfulness (insight) meditation for years, I started practicing New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and committed to studying it wholeheartedly because of their systematic approach to teaching the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) to laypeople.
  • I went vegetarian again in July, 2018 to align my food choices with my principles.
  • I’m making every effort to build a freelance writing/editing/ proofreading career so I can work from home.
    • I decided that doing work that is meaningful to me from home is more important than making the big bucks in the corporate world
      • It allows me to go to the gym regularly and eat properly.
      • It’s also important because I want to be a stay-at-home mom to an adopted dog. This may sound frivolous to some people, but I am an avid animal lover. While DH and I regularly dog sit for a neighbor, we haven’t had a dog of our own since the early 80’s. It’s time to rectify that.
  • I like the woman I see in the mirror.

“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”

― Author Unknown

Also, I have grown to realize that growing old truly is a privilege. From 1500 through 1800, the life expectancy of the average European was between 30 to 40 years of age. Take a moment to reflect on that. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the average global life expectancy was 71.5 in 2015, but the average life span in many countries was dramatically lower, from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties. The most recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.6.

For those of us who were lucky enough to be born in a first-world nation, it’s comforting to know that we have an average life expectancy that is double or more of what it was a few hundred years ago. But it’s important to remember that “average life expectancy” is just that: an average. It’s not a guarantee. As we all know, anything could happen to put a premature end to our lives: illness, accident, terrorism, crime… The expression, “You could die today,” has been repeated so many times that we tend not to hear it. It’s background noise, a reminder that we’d rather not face. But veracity is what gives a cliché legs.

My father is 91. I am operating under the assumption that I inherited his longevity genes, so 60 sounds like the prime of my life. If I’m lucky and continue to exercise and eat right, I may well live another 30-plus years. While I’m aware that there is no guarantee, I’m looking forward to those theoretical 30-plus years. There are so many places I haven’t seen, so many books I haven’t read, so many books I haven’t written, so many people and pets I haven’t loved, so many things I haven’t learned.

The oft-repeated expression, “Youth is wasted on the young,” which has been attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, is a truism. I would love to live the rest of my life in my 20-year-old body, which I took for granted then. But I wouldn’t trade the education, experience, relationships, confidence and, dare I say, wisdom of the past 60 years for anything in the world. A few grey hairs is a small price to pay for being the woman I have become.

*Title respectfully borrowed from The Grateful Dead

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