Now I am Sixty

Happy birthday

Ageing is a privilege and having just had my sixtieth birthday has reinforced that fact for me

In Now We Are Six, the collection of poems for children by A. A. Milne the little boy, Christopher Robin, says:

‘But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever. So I think I’ll be six now forever and ever!’

And I think as I have just turned sixty, I’d say something similar.

I’m not sure that at sixty I’m as clever as clever, but I think wanting to be the age I’m at now at forever and ever is a sign of acceptance and contentment.

Yes, being sixty can seem old, though less so to those approaching or beyond this landmark birthday, than to those not yet twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty.

But I don’t have a problem with turning sixty––for one thing it sure beats the alternative. Having survived cancer in my forties, having my sixtieth birthday was definitely something to celebrate.

To me it’s not the new 40 or 50. It is 60––and there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing to be ashamed of, it doesn’t need to be dressed up as something else.

I don’t want to be 40 or 50 again––been there, done that.

 

My lovely 60th birthday cake complete with photos from significant life stages, my book covers, my parents and round the other side my children and grandchildren. Thanks to Mr Anne and to cakemaker, Nicola.
My lovely 60th birthday cake complete with photos from significant life stages, including childhood with my four wee sisters, my graduation,  my wedding, my book covers, my parents and round the other side my children and grandchildren. Thanks to Mr Anne for commissioning and to local cake-maker, Nicola for baking and decorating.

 

For one thing, at 60, there’s retirement, I took it early after a thirty-six year career in primary school teaching, so I’m now two years in––and I can find nothing not to like about it. I miss the children, but not the endless politicking and paperwork. And I’m still working as a writer but, finally, I’m the boss of me.

And there’s my bus pass which allows me to travel anywhere in Scotland by bus free of charge––I was so excited to get that. Receiving it was the true mark of my long held ambition to officially be an old bag.

­But mainly, there is now time – time to do what matters to me – to write more books – both for children and adults – where the ages of the characters are no barrier to having adventures, hopes and dreams – to spend time with the people I love, to take care of myself – and to just stand and stare.

It’s not an end but a beginning – as with any day, it’s the beginning of the rest of my life. I’m not much wiser or less prone to worry and anxiety than I was before. But reaching sixty has helped clarify what’s important. Our numbered days are not endless and there really is no time but the present. A new day is a present––a gift not to be taken for granted at any age.

champagne-1500248_640

Yes, I have to face up to the implications of approaching old age whenever and whatever that may be. I’m sure I’ll recognise it when, and if, it comes. But every age has its challenges and requirements to plan ahead. Sixty is no different.

And apart from when I look in the mirror, I really feel no different. Of course I’ve aged physically, but my six-year-old, sixteen-year-old, twenty-six and thirty-six-year-old selves along with their forty and fifty-year-old counterparts are all still there inside, all part of the me I am today. I’m happy with that.

And what advice would I give my 16 year-old self?

  • Follow your dreams.
  • Do what you love.
  • Seek new experiences.
  • Have no regrets.
  • Be kind to yourself and everyone you meet.
  • Do your small bit to make the world a better place.

And remember these 3 things

  • You will be strong enough,
  • You will be brave enough
  • You will be good enough.

 

Here’s to getting older. How do you feel about big birthdays and about getting older?

Alive, Alive Oh!

I recently read a great wee book called Alive, Alive Oh And Other Things That Matter. It was written by Diana Athill, a literary author and memoirist and it was an inspiring and reassuring read. Athill will be 100 next year and wrote this book, reflecting on her life and the joys of being alive, in the latter half of her nineties.

This post is partly a book review, but it also comes under the ‘Reflecting’ category here on the blog.

My take on getting older

As I’m approaching my 60th birthday later this year, the above book was an especially reassuring and joyful read. I felt positively young for one thing. But it also caused me to reflect on my own feelings about ageing and yes, about life coming to an end.

‘Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.’ So said James Dean and given that this 1950s actor died aged only 24, it’s especially poignant. It’s also wise.

While there’s something to be said for living in the present, being ‘mindful of the moment’ as current speakers of wise words put it, on a practical level we all have to plan – even if it’s just what we’re going to have for dinner. We also need to have our reflective moments about the past and we need our dreams for the future.

We can’t ‘live every day as if it’s our last’ – another popular slogan. That’s one sure way to madness and exhaustion – and perhaps an early grave. But we can be aware of possible ‘lasts’. That is we should part on good terms when we say goodbye to loved ones, we should communicate our feelings, finish things, enjoy people, places and things as we encounter them, spot and create opportunities as the chance arises.

Although, I can’t treat every day as if it’s my last, if I knew I’d die today, I do know how I’d want to spend it.  It would be with those closest to me and to be able to say goodbye and tell them how much I love them before I departed.

In my head, I’m still in my mid-thirties – at least until I look in the mirror. Life really does seem to have passed very quickly. Each decade has had all the normal ups and downs. I’ve had births and bereavement, gained an M.A. and an M.Sc., had a thirty-six year teaching career, and an even longer marriage. I have two grown-up children who have made me very proud and I’m now a grandma to two more wonderful little human beings. I’ve travelled all over the world, survived cancer and depression and, after a long apprenticeship,

have become a writer.

And in my writing for adults, I write contemporary fiction where the main characters are no longer young. They are – gasp – over 45, but they still have a life, they still live and love, make mistakes, start anew – regardless of their age. And I have readers who range from twenty-somethings to those in their nineties.

And in my real life there’s still stuff I want to do. I want to write more novels, do some more travelling, see my grandchildren grow up. I know, I don’t want much! And I’ll do my best to stay healthy in order to achieve these remaining dreams.

I suppose what I’m saying is yes, age is more than a number. The number is significant, of course it is. There’s no denying that the mind and body are affected by the passage of time. Ageing is inevitable. It’s the price you pay for surviving – and it sure beats the alternative.

I’m also saying cherish your past, it’s what has made you; nourish the present, it’s all you can hold in your grasp; and plan so you can look ahead with excited anticipation to your future. And yes, with equanimity, look to life’s end.

 

Review

Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill

Genre: Memoir

There’s a sense of having experienced a life well-lived that pervades Athill’s book. In this memoir, she looks back over her life from childhood until the present. Now resident in what sounds like a wonderful care home she’s sustained by her memories, but also enjoys a life that’s as full as she wants it to be. She talks about the friendships of old age and how they differ from those we experience when younger. She talks about the end of her sex life, about relative frailty, but also about getting out and about and taking part. And she is honest and candid about the approach of her own death. She doesn’t view death as the end, but as just another part of life.

The book has humour, poignancy and honesty. It is indeed life-affirming. And I recommend it whatever age you are.

Type of Read: Reassuring and inspiring. Read it with a glass of champagne and celebrate the sheer joy of being alive, alive oh!

Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter is published by Granta and is available in Hardback and as an e-book.

 

Your Thoughts on Ageing

How do you feel about getting older? Does it scare you or do you embrace it? Do leave your comments.

Stones 27,28, and 29 added to the river

English: Stepping Stones Stepping stones over ...
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27 My back cramps, my left hip aches and my knees crackle. Fingers ache with arthritis. Once out of bed, I look in the mirror – my late mother appears to be looking back at me. How can this be? How did I get to be fifty-five? Inside I’m still in my thirties. I look at my reflection and smile – it’s not all bad this ageing thing – sure beats the alternative. And as I grow older, I can let my eccentricities and subversive streak rip and people will put up with it. I plan to grow very old, very disgracefully.

28 Saturday pause. I stop and breathe. Catch up with real life. Unwind and recharge. Each day has its own ‘feel’. Saturday feels good – a day of being in the present.

29 Sunday is a split personality sort of day. I like that it’s still the weekend – a lazy day –a looking back and forward day. But it’s always tinged with blue.

Growing Old Mindfully

Old Woman Dozing by Nicolaes Maes (1656), Oil ...
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Whilst teaching today, I was asked by a pupil how long I’d
been a teacher. When I replied that it was now almost thirty-three years, the
collective gasp almost blew me over. “So how old are you?” asked one brave chappie. I don’t know what came over me,
but I asked them to guess. The lowest guess was 50 and the highest was 60. And,
as I’m 55 next birthday, they weren’t bad guesses. And apart from some remarks
such as “you’re older than my granny,” and “I never knew you were that old,” when I told them my age, I
still seemed to have some credibility left with most of them.

As to why I’m retelling this classroom anecdote here – well –
I’ve been thinking about age and ageing quite a lot recently. This is partly
due to me reaching my mid-fifties and partly due to watching the, very
different, journeys into old age experienced by three elderly relatives.   I’m
also reading a book called ‘The Warmth of the Heart Prevents the Body from
Rusting’ by Marie de Hennezel. And it’s an immensely reassuring read.

Although living to a ripe old age should be viewed as a
privilege and a joy, it is something many of us appear to fear and dread. We
are scared of loss of independence and of health, both physical and mental.
According to de Hennezel, the years from fifty-five to seventy-five are early
old age and are a time of preparation for very old age. Now you may dispute the
age at which being elderly begins, but de Hennezel’s assertion that ageing is
about attitude is more difficult to disagree with as you read about her
experiences. De Hennezel is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist,
herself in her sixties.

She suggests that age is a state of mind and that one’s
quality of elderly life is utterly dependent upon one’s attitude. She’s not
advocating denial of age, or ignoring it as irrelevant. Nor is she recommending
cosmetic surgery, botox or any other way of trying to deceive the eye. What she
is urging, is maintaining love for, and faith in, life. She advocates humour
and contact with younger people and remaining engaged with the world. While she
does recognise the importance of good nutrition and exercise, she puts the
emphasis on the inner, emotional, intellectual and spiritual life. The case
studies, academic work and personal anecdotes which are incorporated in the
book are deeply thought-provoking, moving and encouraging.

My three elderly relatives bear out much of what de Hennezel
says. One of them rises early, takes daily walks, enjoys the company of all
ages, is completely clued up on world and national politics, and is in touch
with the lives of all family members, young and old. Another decided at eighty
that they were now old, and, almost overnight declined into physical and mental
frailty – for no other apparent reason than a psychological one. The third
elderly family member has progressively cut themselves off from contact with friends
and family, ceased to engage in pleasurable activities and stopped having any
interest in the wider world. They seem to have sunk into an age-related
depression, in spite of relatively good physical health.

Surprisingly, it is the first of the three individuals above
who is the oldest and who is, on paper at least, the most physically frail. And
it is he and de Hennezel who shall be my ageing role models. I plan to embrace
old age. I shall drink cocktails, not tea, at mid afternoon meetings with
friends, I shall make full use of my bus pass to travel the country visiting
loved ones young and old, I shall embrace new technology and wear colourful clothes
and outrageous earrings.

I remember reading the word vivacious for the first time in
an Enid Blyton book, when aged about eight. I asked my mother what it meant and
it’s a word I’ve loved ever since. It is the state to which I will aspire until
I inspire and expire my last breath.

Big Pants Don’t Lessen the Lust for Life

 

Acer platanoides in autumn colors.
Image via Wikipedia
Personification of Autumn (Currier & Ives lith...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s official – according to the BBC, the UK summer is over. Apart from wondering if it had ever actually got started, I must admit that the passing of another summer makes me stop and think. Ever since I turned fifty( a small number of years ago), I seem to have developed a hyper-awareness of time passing.  It’s also  my birthday very soon so the ‘another year older’ factor is to the fore and that also causes me to pause and reflect.

 It can’t be denied that the body  slows down and changes. Things creak, whistle and gurgle. Bits that used to stay in place all by themselves need to be cantilevered into position. Big pants, comfy shoes and cosy cardis are now acceptable wardrobe items. HRT and antacid tablets are the drugs of choice. Skin and hair are drier than a box of shreddies. And on a windy day the jowly bits around the jawline flap alarmingly and could have your eye out.

But that’s just the outer shell. Inside  my head, I’m not a middle-aged, post-menopausal old bag – that’s just what the mirror tells me. Yes, I sometimes feel I’ve seen it all before. But I also feel there’s still so much to learn.  In the last few months I’ve taught myself to twitter, to facebook (is that a verb?) and to blog. And yes, I may get jaded at school with constant new initiatives, targets and forests of paperwork, but the children are still a joy, still fascinating and challenging and rewarding to teach  – and learn from. And there’s still lots of things on my ‘to do before I bu**er off’ list. (And no, the asterisked word in the previous sentence is neither ‘butter’ or ‘buffer’).

So, bring it on. Let the nights draw in. There’s the autumn days with their glorious light and colour to look forward to and the big, starry Hebridean night skies to gaze at and enjoy.

All in all I think autumn is my favourite season – so far…