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.

Julian Barnes book, Nothing to Be Frightened Of

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.

The book Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes

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.

3 Responses to “Approaching Age 60”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Well, I don’t know. I’ve met a few people who seemed to enter old age at thirty, so there’s that.

    I turned 67 on my recent trip. During my two weeks of solo travel, I never thought about old age or death, except on the day I was climbing Pawnee Rock to get a photo of the memorial plaque embedded beyond the reach of my camera.

    And I mostly don’t think about death, except as something that requires arrangements for those left behind – like my cat. There’s a $500 CD with her vet as the beneficiary, and he’s promised that they’ll take her in and find a new home for her, if that were necessary.

    Otherwise? I get up in the morning, have a cuppa, brush the kitty and say to myself, “This could be your last day on earth. What are you going to do with it?”

    I suppose I am old, now that I think about it. But I mostly don’t think about it. I do think having had a mother who lived into her nineties affects my view of things. If I had to pin it down, I guess I’d say “old” begins around 80.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I think it was Mary Pipher who distinguished between “young old” and “old old.” She said that it was illness that was the threshold between the two. Those devastating diseases and chronic illnesses signified a big change into old old age.

      I suppose one of the reasons I think about my mortality is because I’ve experienced one of those scary diseases, twice now. My attitude is just to live as fully as I can each day and be grateful for that. Another reason why death is on my mind is because of my Dad’s situation. I wonder if his cognitive losses make him less aware of his impending death (I say impending only because of his age, almost 95, and not his health per se.)

      Death is one of those mysteries. Inevitable, but what can you do about it? So the attitude of why think about it is also understandable.

      • Diana Studer Says:

        young old – I think of this as the active retirement U3A stage (altho for that I must wait till we move to False Bay and sell the house). Old is when everything slows down. 60 looms ahead of me, with 3 sisters been there done that

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