by Barb North

I’m sixty-two years old. How did that happen? I should have seen it coming. Duh, do the math. But like all shocking events, you think this just happens to other people.

Age never bothered me much. Thirty-one was a little dicey because my mother died when she was that age. Thirty-five was weird because I could no longer donate eggs at the UCLA Ovum Transplant Center or join LAPD. Not that I wanted to do either,; it was just weird to be too old for something. Fifty was a piece of cake. In response to “You don’t look 50,” I used Gloria Steinem’s line: “This is what 50 looks like.” But sixty, Holy shit, that's just horrifying.

I know, I don’t look 62, and it’s just a number, and 60’s the new 40, --- and you’re only as old as you feel, but if you’re saying those things, you’re probably under 60, because when there’s a 6 in front of your age, you are suddenly elderly. Listen to the news: “An elderly woman was attacked. She was 62.” “Best to just ride out the dips in the stock market, unless you are in your 60’s and don’t have time to wait for the recovery.” “Coming up: an elderly student finally realizes his life’s dream and learns to read at 68” “Marge and Herb Nelson, a couple in their sixties swindled out of their life savings in the sunset of their life, have lost their home ” Oh, and that’s another thing. All of a sudden I have peers named Marge and Herb.

Look, I am a child of the sixties. I am not supposed to be in my sixties. I remember when 20 was old, and 40 was ancient and never trust anyone over 30. So let me walk you through my sixtieth year.

On June 9, 2007 I woke up in a sweat. I called a friend “I just woke up, and apparently I’ve turned 60.” His response: “Ouch” I told myself, it’s natural to feel “ouch.” I have tools. I know how to handle feelings. I allowed myself to sob uncontrollably.

I used “self talk.” Ans “Self Observance” “I am sobbing, I am sad, I am mourning my youth. This is what happens to the elderly.”

I decided I needed a ritual to help me embrace “elderly.” I reached for a Yahrzeit candle, those Jewish mourning candles in a glass that burn for 24 hours. Then I realized 24 hours wasn’t enough. I needed the Mexican eight- day candle, the kind they light on the side of the road when someone dies in a traffic accident. I thought of thiscandle lighting as a brilliant, cleansing tribute to my humanity. In eight days, I would be ready to accept the third trimester of my life with beauty and grace.”

The transition to this third trimester was bringing dubious surprises. Those calls you get out of nowhere that someone just dropped dead had been increasing. I call this the Dodgeball Factor. A person near you gets hit, you’re shaken up but relieved you survived, and you realize you have to move a faster or hide behind someone else if you see the ball coming. Truth--- you don’t even see the ball coming. And by the time you’re 60, you can’t hide behind the slow fat guy any more, ‘cause he’s already been hit. Maybe I had been preparing for death. I just wasn’t prepared for aging.

So I lit the candle and spent the actual day of my birthday intermittently sobbing on the couch and taking an occasional phone call from a well-wisher. No party, no “out to dinner,” no candles on a cake. I just sat shiva all day, and the next day, and the next. And finally the 8 days passed, and I emerged not a new person, but a more severe basket case than I was on day one. There were panic attacks, heart palpitations, and menopause…. Yeah, with my amazing sense of timing, somehow I waited until I was 60 for menopause, just to make the whole experience more intense… a perfect storm, a triple-critical bio-rhythm day. (Remember those?) So now, all at once, I’d lost my youth, lost my ability to bear children, and lost my mind.

And at 60 and menopausal, the little things can trigger all kinds of reactions. I went to visit my sister in Boston, and her four-year-old granddaughter is sitting on my lap, twirling the ends of my hair. She holds my face in her tiny hands. “Auntie Barb” she croons. “Remember when you were younger and you looked really nice.” I’m thinking, , she’s only been alive four years. How badly could I have declined for her to be reminiscing about my youth?

Then there was the barrage of cutesy emails about turning old: parodies of familiar songs with cartoons of aging baby boomers on treadmills. Jokes about wearing pants with elastic, and my 62-year old friend who said of turning 60 “Look.There’s no upside to this aging thing.”

My psyche was like a dangerous neighborhood, and I realized I should not be there alone. That’s’ when it occurred to me: “Hey, I’m a baby-boomer. There are millions of us. I need support. Surely others are going through this horrible thing.” One thing I’ll say for baby-boomers, and particularly women of the early feminist days:… we bond. We invented support groups…

I sent an email inviting some women my age to my house for I had no idea what. The criterion for attendees was being in high school when Kennedy was shot, remembering the movie Reefer Madness, and having angst about this 60 thing. Nine showed up, and we still get together every month to help each other define what is happening to us.

Though we’re all different… Our bond is age… and though many say age doesn’t matter, it does. We were born when television was born. We have a common culture, a common history, a common perspective and common ailments. Together we are going where none of us have gone before… into old age.

In April, I realized I was finally ready for a birthday party. It had taken me 10 months. I let go of the ledge and discovered it was only a 2-inch drop. Evites went out: “I’m Taking the You out of Youth, One Day At A Time. It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I want to… “ On the last day that I was 60, I had my 60th birthday party.

As I look at 62 years of building the tapestry that is my life so far and I say “Whose life is this? How did all these divergent pieces come together to create this painting -- which is definitely not a paint by Number? And you know what? I like it.

Now at the risk of sounding like those emails, here are some things I’m noticing:

When looking in the mirror naked I see that everything has been altered by time.

And: I just had a tooth extracted and my back went out all in the same week. Strange ailments with strange names happen …like suddenly one morning I felt an excrutiating, stabbing pain eminating from the bottom of my foot. When I mentioned it to a another 60ish, she said “I had that, that’s Plantar Faciaitis. Wanna borrow my boot?”

And: I was taught to respect my elders and open doors for them and stuff like that, but apparently my youth worshipping generation forgot to pass that on, so now no one respects us as elders and when I open a door, some kid runs through it ahead of me.

And: Life is easier because you learn a lot of stuff in 62 years so you make fewer mistakes just having made so many choices, both wrong and right ones.

Even though I haven’t done or achieved everything I’d hope for in life, I’ve become the person I wanted to be; at this point, this has been a life well lived. I’m mostly over the 60 shock now. How did that happen? I turned 61… and then 62. I’ve outlived both my parents and certainly my expectations… so now, I’m in bonus time. I just brought a new refrigerator. The old one broke after 26 years. I wonder if this refrigerator will be my last? In 26 years I’ll be 88. Who buys a new refrigerator at 88? By then you just use a cooler. Well, at least I still feel safe buying green bananas.