Finding Myself at Sixty
Turning sixty is surprising even though it is totally predictable and not at all unusual. I was born, the earth revolved around the sun, over and over until sixty years passed.
Almost every aspect of my life; the way I learn, eat, play, and work has changed. Here are five ways my life has become radically different.
Facts are fast and easy – Today facts can found in milliseconds, while it the past it took hours. To research a topic when I was in grade school, I had to walk to the library, flip through the card catalogue to identify a source, and then search the stacks hoping that the book was put back where it belonged so I could find it. Today kids can find information about almost any topic from the comfort of their bedroom. This also makes them instant experts on anything. If you tell your kids that hummingbirds prefer to migrate solo they can confer with Doctor Google to confirm or challenge your claim. Once upon a time adults were considered wiser because they knew things, but now young and old have the same access to the source of all human knowledge; the internet. But perhaps at sixty the benefit I provide is quality control of truth. Last year fake news reports included the death of Barbara Bush and altar boys putting marijuana in incense burners. Perhaps maturity has the advantage that based on life experience I can help my children identify what is truly real.
Friends are machines - Kids play computer games for hours while I was content playing kickball with the neighborhood kids until dinner time. My daughter once went to her friend’s house holding her computer, and keyboard with her mouse dragging behind her, so they could play on their computers side by side. Don’t get me wrong, I am not totally against playing computer games. It’s a total rush to feel yourself responding in microseconds to objects flying at you from every direction. I was addicted to playing a certain silly game with the belief that my improving my score I was making my brain sharper. But when the game was over there was a guilty feeling my time could have been spent more wisely. Now I play Scrabble against real people, but I limit myself to five simultaneous games and I don’t play on my mobile phone. I have decided instead to use my leisure time to schmooze with real living human beings over a glass of wine. There are several studies that show that friendship is the most effective way to avoid illness and arrive to a state of wellbeing, but I have yet to see the healthy side effects of playing computer games. I also make a point instead to have two intimate caring conversations a day, besides those that I have with my husband.
People are consumed by food – My mother told me that during the depression there wasn’t enough money to go to the market and often she picked her dinner from her garden. People were grateful to having something to eat and didn’t have issues with dairy products, meat, nuts, or gluten. Today if your dinner guests are vegan, sensitive to fiber, and paleo limited to foods enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors finding one dish to please everyone is impossible. It appears that we humans have become so sensitive the next war will be won with peanuts. Personally, I prefer not to consciously limit my food choices and to eat a little bit of everything. This way meals have more variety, perhaps I will be healthier, but for sure I will be an easier guest.
Liberal Arts are dying – My neighbor, a wife of a Yale professor called my mother crying because her daughter was marrying an engineer. By marrying a man that was associated with practical work she had lowered her social status. Today engineering is a coveted degree and children are pressured to learn computer science to create programs that can tell us when to buy stock, who to date, and when to take a left turn. Being a history professor or a school teacher is no longer in fashion. But only time will tell if we will pay a high price by not investing in the fine art of studying our past mistakes to become better, wiser people.
Less is more – Millennials are saddled with more college debt and lower income than the previous generation. My mother’s main joy in life was her social climbing by moving from the wrong side of the tracks to a home that was mistaken for the governor’s mansion. As a child, I had two bedrooms and bathrooms which made bedtime terrifying as I ventured into the dark silence of my private wing. Today, I prefer making every room functional and talking to a family member without screaming down two flights of stairs. My son needs even less than I. He is happy to rent a smaller apartment in the city so he can walk to work, and go to his band rehearsals in the evenings. Early in his career he even considered asking to take one day off a week, just to make sure he had time to enjoy life. His top priority is not to be rich but to have a rich and fulfilling life.
As an optimist, I would like to believe that we are becoming more aware, open minded, and flexible with our thinking, so we can make more discoveries and find more pleasure and meaning in our lives. But at the same time I worry we are becoming confused by being exposed to so many new things so it’s difficult to decide what to accept, believe and absorb.
I tend to think that our happiness might be based on our ability to keep sight of what really sustains us. At the ripe age of sixty, the best time is still spent with the people that make me think and laugh. Because after six decades on this planet, despite our digital companions, multiple food options, exposure to different beliefs and cultures, love is still pleasing and healthy and this is truly timeless.