Being 61 is not what I expected…though I don’t know that I could tell you, with any degree of specificity, what I did expect. I’ve never given it much thought; at least not in practical or concrete ways.
I have friends who have been super intentional about planning for their future; others who are afraid of it. Both ends of this spectrum feel alien to me. I’ve barely considered savings or retirement, have not stuck with a job long enough to accumulate much in 401ks, and rarely-if-ever reflect on the “what-ifs” that could yet exist – whether related to the economy, my health, or the circumstances of my life (not to mention the world).
I’m not suggesting this approach (or lack thereof) to aging is a good one, simply that I’m now here and constantly surprised by what it looks like, what it feels like, what I look and feel like!
The reality of aging, of being “old,” has always felt incredibly distant, like mist and shadow, a someday I’ve not planned for or given much attention.
Whether I’ve prepared for it or not, had expectations of it or not, it is clearly here – at least according to the world around me. I cannot spend more than 60 seconds on Facebook or Instagram without being bombarded by posts, reels, and ads for miracle skincare regimens, exercise programs for women “my age,” and clothing for the “mature” woman. I rarely fall prey to such messages, but still, they take their toll – subliminally (and blatantly) reminding me that if I don’t do something (translate: buy something), I’m going to fade into obscurity, that “more” is required of me to remain viable and valued, that I’m not enough.
Despite the fact that I don’t give cultural messages/demands much credence, that doesn’t mean they have evaporated from my consciousness. Especially when I look in the mirror.
Old habits die hard. I remember staring into that glass as a teenager, wishing/praying that I looked different and better, sure that the latest makeup application technique in Seventeen magazine would change my life. I have known long seasons of getting dressed in the morning and offering my reflection nothing but scathing critique for its weight, shape, and very being. These days, most days, I lean as close to the mirror as I can and most-definitely see aging’s evidence in visceral form. I am reminded, yet again, that this IS my reality. I see it in my very face. But unlike decades before, I can (almost) let go of a lifetime’s demands – internal and external – and just be.
I could never have imagined that “old” age would be the thing that invites me to fuller self-acceptance, wholeness, and love.
Alongside the unexpected assimilations into this “age,” are grace-filled perspectives I couldn’t have foretold; ways of looking at, even experiencing life that I couldn’t have predicted or dreamed when I was younger.
My two daughters are now in their 20s. I watch them ask so many hard questions of themselves and their reality – ravenous for clarity, certainty, and dreams fulfilled. They wrestle with unmet expectations – the trials of “being a grown up,” paying bills, making money (or not), being in relationships (or not), and figuring themselves out. In varying forms and contexts, I hear them saying, “It shouldn’t be this hard!”
Whether I watch from afar or get far too enmeshed, I am subsumed by memories of what my life looked like when I was their age, all that I wanted and didn’t have, had and didn’t want, and thought would never change. It was hard! And I am surprised, yet again, when I realize that all the things they are feeling and experiencing right now ARE NOT what I feel and experience AT ALL anymore.
It’s stating the obvious: I am not in my 20s! I have lived decades and made it through many seasons of unknowing and frustration. I have survived – along with massive mistakes and profound heartbreak and upsetting setbacks and incredible growth. I have actually lived to tell the story. I see how fate follows its course, how life does go on. And in the midst, how I have not only survived, but become a woman I am proud of. Here. Now. 61.
Finally, perhaps more unexpected than anything I’ve named thus far, is this:
Over and over again I am surprised by the spaciousness of the present and what it feels like to stay right here, right now. It is unexpected, expansive, and generous.
61, in and of itself, is hardly distinct or significant. Soon I’ll be 62 and eligible for early withdrawal of Social Security benefits! Then I’ll be 65, 70, and then some. Though I anticipate more changes ahead, more things I can’t possibly predict, there’s no “out there” or threshold or “someday” that I’m reaching for. I’m just here. Right here. Right now. This body, this mind, this heart, this life. It’s amazing.
You could not have convinced me, whether 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago, that there would ever be a time in which I would feel at home in my own skin, that I would not feel lacking, that I would be able to rest from the tyranny of past and future, others’ (and my own) expectations, the dull ache of discontent and demand that has permeated so much, too much, of my life.
Perhaps that’s what all of this is about: nothing of what I expected, endlessly surprised, more than enough. This could have been just as true at 21, 31, 41, and 51, but I didn’t have the wisdom or perspective or years-lived to appreciate it like I do now. And that IS the point…
I appreciate it all.