Approaching Age 60
November 13, 2013
Sometimes a book arrives at just the right time in life. I felt this way about Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes, written as he was turning 60.
Barnes says, “Sometimes my coevals say, in a puzzled fashion, ‘The funny thing is, I don’t feel any older.’ I certainly do.”
I’m with Barnes. Some of my friends insist that 60 is the new 40, or that “You’re not old at 60.” But I beg to differ. At 60, I will be entering old age. And I am interested in how navigating this last part of my life will differ (or stay the same) from my earlier selves. I am the fifth of my siblings to pass into our sixth decade, but none of them remarked that it was a significant passage for them. It seems important to me, though.
In this book, Barnes, an agnostic, writes about how writers, philosophers, friends and relatives came to terms with death, that ultimate extinction. He writes about fear of death, fear of dying, and of seeing death as nothing to be frightened of. I can’t say that I learned anything new to take with me on my personal journey to the end. None of us know how death will come for us, or whether what we believe will help us die gracefully or painfully.
But I still found myself drawn to Barnes’ musings, perhaps because I think about death often, too.
“Death can’t be talked down, or parlayed into anything; it simply declines to come to the negotiating table. . . . death never lets you down, remains on call seven days a week, and is happy to work three consecutive eight-hour shifts.” There is no escaping it.
I’ve read one other book by Barnes, Levels of Life, which touches on his recent widowhood.
In that book he says, “Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes for both.” And he goes on to say, “Pain shows that you have not forgotten; pain enhances the flavour of memory; pain is a proof of love.”
These words resonate with me, too.