On Turning 60

March 1, 2014

” . . . wrinkles are the credentials of humanity.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Birthday candles

Birthday candles

This is the year that I turn 60 and I’m thankful to have made it this far.  After experiencing cancer for the first time 27 years ago, I’ve never taken the years for granted.  I look at life as a finite gift, and I try to make something special of each day.  Looking ahead, I want to be even more economical with my remaining minutes and put my best energies into the things that matter most to me.

In the late 1990s, Cathleen Rountree wrote a series of books about the decades of women’s lives.  Each book is comprised of interviews with about twenty interesting and creative women, some famous, who share the lessons of their age.  I was curious to see what tips I might find from women who were in their 60s at the time of their interviews.  Here are some quotes from On Turning 60:  Embracing the Age of Fulfillment:

“Challenges keep life going.  If you don’t have a challenge, I think you die.”
— Elayne Jones, tympanist

“Aging is a distillation process — you begin to be more economic with your energy. . . . You realize that many things are a waste of your time, and you think, Why should I put my energy into those activities anymore?”
— Luly Santangelo, dancer

“Have younger friends . . . because when you get closer to the finish line, it’s very helpful to have people you have an emotional relationship with who are not dying or dead.”
— Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary), singer and activist

“In my late fifties I realized that I had less energy, less time to do things, and that everything took longer . . . I used to be able, as most women are, to do four or five things at once.  Do the juggling act.  Now, if I can keep one plate in the air, that’s good.”
— Ursula le Guin, writer

“My yearning now is to be free of all physical encumbrances.”
— Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst

I couldn’t resist peeking ahead to my next decade, the 70s, to see whether the wisdom and advice changed with advancing years.  Here are a few quotes from On Turning 70:  Honoring the Voices of Wisdom:

“Basically it takes me longer to do things, especially when I don’t want to do them.”
—  Marge Franz

“My experience is that there is much more consumption of culture than production of culture.  I’m talking about going to the theater, going to musical events, going to classes, learning the computer.  I don’t know if it’s typical of this stage of life, but I’m not consumed with consuming.  I get more pleasure out of the simple act of creating.”
— June Singer, analyst and writer

“I don’t think anybody makes it to a hundred in any comfort.”
— Inge Morath, photographer

” . . . I think as you get older, time is more valuable than money or success. . . .Something very important that I want to tell women is that it’s never too late, but don’t wait until it’s too late, because you won’t have the energy.  You should do a little bit at a time, but when you have a little time.  It’s important to learn how to use your small bits of time, your five minutes, your ten minutes, your fifteen minutes.  All those begin to count up . . . It’s not the long amounts of time you have that are important.  Don’t wait until your children are grown, until your husband is retired; I think that’s a big mistake.  You should learn how to use your snatches of time when they are given to you.”
— Ruth Asawa, sculptor

“I don’t have very much time to sit back and be old, because there’s still so much undone.”
— Enola Maxwell, activist

I’ve always thought that I have very wise readers based on the astute comments you make.  Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me on the occasion of me starting my  seventh decade?


18 Responses to “On Turning 60”

  1. Renee Says:

    First Congratulations Rosemary. I just turned sixty last July so we are kindred spirits in a way. Some things became less important (I used to love jewelry and the high cost of gold helped put an end to that)but I had decided there were many other things I’d rather spend any excess money on. Like you, I love to travel and enjoy the beauties of nature. There is a window to the right of my desk which faces the garden and my bird feeder and I love watching my feathered friends. I hate the term bucket list but there are things that I longed to do. One of them was to stay at the Plaza Hotel across the street from Central Park. Last year one of the sites, Groupon I think had a discount on a room. I jumped on it and finally stayed at this glorious grand dame. It did not disappoint It was beautiful and I felt like a Queen. On the news last week they announced that a certain part of Connecticut was experiencing an unusually high number of bald eagles. I have always wanted to see one in the wild and this coming weekend have a special river trip booked to hopefully fulfill that longing. Every day is precious and I count my blessings every day.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I love the special indulgences you are allowing yourself to fulfill your dreams. The next time in NYC, I’ll have to at least step foot in the lobby of the Plaza. How fun to have stayed there.

  2. Chris Says:

    Happy 60th birthday to come Rosemary! I turned 60 already and like you have faced down cancer and also, do not take any day for granted. I take joy in the simple things in life as I get older as so many do but being a lover of nature, I always did but more so now! I don’t have any outstanding pearls of wisdom for someone as wise as you except keep doing what you do in your life’s journey. You don’t seem to waste a day and we all benefit from what you share! The best is yet to come! 🙂

  3. Adrienne Says:

    Happy Birthday, Rosemary.This is summer I will turn 75.I don’t feel particularly wise. Perhaps the biggest change as I age is the obvious one of not planning too far into the future. That’s probably a good thing since “they” tell us to live in the moment.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I do find myself in natural sympathy with some of those Buddhist and zen principles — non-attachment, acceptance, living in the moment. There is some peace in doing this, for me anyway. I, too, don’t feel wiser than anyone else. Life is such a little blip in the scheme of the Universe — hard to find much meaning in that.

      So rather than seeking wisdom or meaning, I try to just appreciate. Maybe the will be enough.

  4. Pat Says:

    Happy Birthday, Rosemary. I wasn’t too happy about turning 60 but as I look back over the past 10 years they weren’t all that bad. I do believe I made the best of them – even though I had to adjust to major changes in my health. I am turning 70 this year and one thing I notice is that I am loosing family and friends. Life feels like it is shrinking even though I am expanding my living. Getting old isn’t for sissies but life is good.

    • Rosemary Says:

      It is a paradox that with age, certain things shrink — failing body parts, more limited mobility perhaps, and personal losses as our circles of family and friends and colleagues retire, move, or die. And yet, there is the promise of expanded inner awareness. We will all have to take what life throws at us. I just hope to do it with grace and dignity.

      • Pat Says:

        LOL – that has been my goal. Grace and dignity. I’m not sure I’m succeeding because I also love having character. I think I am growing old with integrity,. Not sure how they all fit together – but that might be a good post.

      • Rosemary Says:

        Character and integrity. Being your authentic self. Yes!

  5. Monica Townsend Says:

    I am wishing you a very Happy 60th Birthday, Rosemary. Here is a Mary Oliver poem for your birthday enjoyment:


    I wish I was twenty and in love with life
    and still full of beans.

    Onward, old legs!
    There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
    the roses are blooming and finding their labor
    no adversity to the spirit.

    Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
    shining like a song, like a body
    I want to touch

    though I’m not twenty
    and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
    in love with life. And still
    full of beans.

    Rosemary, may you always be… “in love with life. And still
    full of beans.”
    With my best wishes to you on your special day,

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for the birthday poem– truly apt and lovely, as so many of Mary Oliver’s poems are. It makes me smile to think about acting full of beans. That’s a phrase I heard in my childhood, but not so much anymore. Time to resurrect it.

  6. shoreacres Says:

    Full of beans! Oh, my. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed that one, too.

    One writer I’ll recommend, if you don’t know her, is May Sarton. Her journals are wry, sarcastic, infinitely honest about the realities of aging, and sometimes drop-dead funny.

    As for advice? I have none, but I certainly found lines from your quotations that resonate. I do find that many things are a waste of time, and I just don’t partake any more. It’s been at least three years since I’ve set foot in a shopping mall. The television is gone. There’s no Facebook in my life, and I don’t text or tweet. Why in the world would I waste 2-3 hours a day with such, as some of my friends do?

    Related is that comment about creating rather than consuming, which is related to the above, of course. I think another way to put it is that I’d rather be active than passive, rather participate than watch.

    One of the best decisions I made was to do the “big things” — European travel, blue water sailing and such — when I was in my 30s and 40s, even though I gave up financial security in my later years to do so. Now, I “have” to keep working, but the truth is that I’ve done so much, I don’t mind. I have no sense of having been denied anything. Remarkable to even see myself saying such a thing, but it’s true.

    I can’t wait to see what reflections you have when you turn 70!

    • Rosemary Says:

      I’ve read and reread Sarton’s journals over the decades. I finally passed my collection of her works along to someone else. I became a bit disenchanted with her after reading other people’s run ins with her temper. She sounded like a difficult person to be around sometimes. But she was gifted and I may even reread her journals again (library copies this time).

  7. Diana Studer Says:

    Next year, I’ll catch up with you. Something about blogging attracts us 50-something baby boomers.

  8. Happy Birthday this year Rosemary!!!

  9. Jeanne Shook Says:

    I just celebrated my 60th in January, and I can tell you that the anticipation of turning 60 is far worse than the event itself. It is quite liberating, actually. This is the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my own skin. Whenever you turn 60, Rosemary, I wish you continued good health and a steady stream of life experiences that bring you inner peace and joy. Sixty is better than the “new forty!”

  10. Glen Fisher Says:

    Reblogged this on Keep Calm and Carry On and commented:
    Not surprisingly, perhaps, the hurdle or milestone or achievement or whatever of turning sixty (and, if I am honest, of living somewhere in the zone of 60 plus onwards) has given pause to more minds than my own. As I research this matter, I may from time to time share posts from other bloggers that I find interesting, or funny, or sad, or provoking. Rosemary’s Blog, which I found online today, is simple, direct, humane and interesting. Thank you Rosemary for sharing.

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