Wednesday, March 28, 2012

0/30/60/90

Every age has its own delights and limitations and 60 is no exception. Contrary to popular opinion, I highly recommend it. (Especially, as Woody Allen once quipped, considering the alternative). So far, 60 has been kind to me.The atrophy of the body and senses is minimal enough that reading glasses, quiet restaurants, occasional naps and other minor aids is enough to keep me in the game. I’m feeling entitled to more freely speak my mind, am inching closer to something that might qualify as wisdom, and sometimes get a good bus seat and even senior discount at select movies. It’s great! Okay, it’s not all peaches and cream. Sometimes the mirror frightens me and the number 60 attached to little ol’ me seems frankly unbelievable and being invisible in the singles bar (where I went in to use the bathroom—why else would I be there?) can be sobering, but mostly it has been a marvelous time of my life.

And amidst many pleasures, the greatest, and one I’m painfully aware will be short-lived, is the chance to spend time with my mother at 90 and my granddaughter at 0+. As I’ve remarked often before, the beginnings and endings of life share many things in common. Both have ESP+ in the foreground (Eat, Sleep, Pee and Poop), both are mostly pre-verbal (or post-verbal) expressing through sounds, music and gestures, both light up with face recognition, both are more wholly in the present with a memory that doesn’t expect or anticipate the next moment, both express pain and pleasure immediately and in no uncertain terms, both thrive on touch and kisses. And so on.

And then there’s my daughter I’m visiting, who at 31 is married, has her first child, bought a house and is on her way into a fruitful and solid career, all of which was true for me at the same age. There’s too much happening between 0 and 30 to qualify as a single stage— indeed, you can make cases for the radical differences between the 2-week and the 6-week old, the 3-month and the 6-month old, the 1-year and the 3-year old, and so on. But today I’m thinking in 30-year blocks— the first 30-years to create an identity, discover a path, find a life partner and then between 30 and 60, you’re in the thick of your workaday adult life with mortgages, kids, major appliances, spackling and upholstering, work, work and again, more work, carpool schedules, Saturday soccer games, 401 K’s, the whole catastrophe.

And then you hit 60, at the far end of that 30-yard run down the field. In my case, my mortgage is paid, no more major house renovations in sight, kids long done with college, people at school keep asking me about retirement (is that a hint?). As one phase ends, another begins, the chance to attend to those neglected parts of yourself and re-shuffle the balance. (As in this new jazz group I’ve starting, my first “band” and the exciting possibility of being an actual part-time jazz musician.) You move from parent to grandparent (and indeed, it is grand!) start cleaning out the garage, plan those trips you always meant to take and enter a new kind of freedom before the body binds you to smaller and smaller steps. Enter 90.

There is a breathtaking mathematics to it all. Zadie at the start of her first 30-year phase, Kerala at the start of her 30 to 60 phase, me taking the first steps (fate willing) to 90 and my Mom at the end of the cycles (but beginning perhaps yet another grand adventure). Poised at the 2/3 point in the sequence, holding hands with the loved ones each at the other points in the fraction. A beautiful symmetry at this moment of balance. One can only be grateful. 

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