So today is my birthday - and no I'm not 60. I'm 61. And while it doesn't 'freak me out' - so to speak - it definitely gets your attention. One thing is for sure about birthdays after your 50th (to say nothing of your 60th) - you tend to be more reflective when each one arrives. And to a certain extent - somber. After all, it's absolutely certain that you have far fewer birthdays ahead of you than behind. And so the awareness of your own mortality is definitely enhanced.
But something else is also very evident to me today; 61 ain't what it used to be. I look around me, and I see people my age doing things and thinking in a manner that would've been totally foreign to my parents generation. Today, people past 50 are a much livelier breed than used to be the case. I'm reminded of Gail Sheehy's two popular books, some years ago, on the subject of aging: Passages and her later New Passages.
In the first she examined the different stages on life's journey, and in the second she investigated how each new generation is changing the inherited wisdom on how we traverse those stages. And since WWII, each generation has changed that inherited wisdom a lot. For example - nowadays (due largely to advances in medicine and diet) people not only live longer lives - they also live healthier ones.
Can't Wait for Tomorrow
When I was in my teens, whole wheat bread was essentially unheard of; let alone yoga, and vegetarianism, or any number of health related things we now take for granted. Regular exercise past 30? Used to be quite rare. Whereas now, not exercising is what makes one stand-out. And the cumulative impact of such things spread across an entire demographic have wrought profound changes on aging - for the better.
And having come of age in the 1960's, I am part of a generation that rejected everything about the word "traditional". Nowadays it's not only not surprising to see people in their 40's and 50's start new careers - it's actually quite commonplace. Sheehy called the phenomena "second adulthood" and talked of how, from the late 1960's forward, it has become a defining feature of how we now look at life. In-fact, the idea of completely changing one's life to pursue a dream after 40 or 50 has become quite common.
So yeah - it's my birthday. And I'm 61 today. But unlike anything I could've earlier imagined about reaching this age - my thoughts are completely forward looking and filled with enthusiasm. And more than ever I realize the value and profundity of a saying that each day seems less of a cliché to me; Today is the first day of the rest of my life.