I’m turning sixty this week. And I have to tell you, I’m kind of ambivalent. I mean, what is sixty, other than the beginning of the seventh decade? Geez, that sounds pretty ancient.

Sixty. It’s kind of a bullshit milestone, more sizzle than steak. Nothing changes the day after. Well, my health insurance already went up. But I’m still five years away from the panacea of Medicare. And retirement? That’s a big reason I chose the writing game. They can carry me from my office feet first.

Sixty. I’m not old old.

I’m just not so young anymore.

I see myself in the mirror; something doesn’t seem right. The voice inside my head is still the same. But the face has changed—who is that man?

Not young enough anymore to head fake and pull my Earl Monroe spin move, or even to venture onto a court, doctor’s orders; or to read without glasses; or to figure out a program or an app that is supposed to be intuitive; or to stay up all night entrenched in something deviant or creative—I need a good night’s rest or I’m screwed the whole next day.

Not young enough anymore to eat pizza or donuts whenever I want; or a cold piece of fruit; or to forego flossing lest my gums recede; or to make an overture toward the super cute twentysomething who seems to be batting her eyelashes at me—at some point I realize that she’s not flirting, that one of her fake eyelashes is on crooked, bless her heart, and that she’s only a few years older than my son, whose ass I wiped, and that she doesn’t even realize she’s flirting, not in that way at least, because what she really wants from me is something that resides inside my head, inside my soul, inside my vast library of personal experience… and not inside my pants.

I’m older than her father.

I see myself in the mirror; something doesn’t seem right. The voice inside my head is still the same. But the face has changed—who is that man? Why are his eyes so puffy? What is with the crazy blotched coloring of his beard? The age spots on his bald head? The yellowing teeth. The recalcitrant hairs sprouting everywhere except the places they’re supposed to be. And what is that weird wrinkly thing going on with his neck?

I’ve only gained fifteen pounds since college, but somehow I have borderline high cholesterol. My abs are still tight but there’s a stubborn layer of fat that wants to muffin over my belt; I’m not quite sure where my ass has gone, ditto the hair on my ankles. And it has become painfully evident lately that I should never have spent the entire summer before freshman year practicing bicycle kicks—luckily, people take my arthritic limp for a modified pimp roll; I guess I’d rather be perceived as cocky than as crippled. In all, I’d say it was worth it; soccer ignited my can-do attitude. But then there’s the whole thing with my neck. There are surgeries in my future, I am certain. I try not to think about it.

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That is what you do at sixty, I guess, because right now nothing’s changed all that much, but you know it will. You look up and see what’s coming and you acknowledge it, and you try not to do the actuarial math. Maybe you find some religion. Maybe you start going to see more doctors. Maybe you fine-tune a little bit your notion of what’s important and what’s a waste of time.

But then you look back down, focus once again on the road before you. You put one foot in front of the other, just as you always have.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was in my early forties, I spent some time with a guy who was ninety-two. His name was Glenn. When we met, he’d been retired for nearly three decades, almost as long as he’d worked. He didn’t mind being old.

“Consider the alternative,” he liked to say, and then he’d laugh his trademark laugh, an elfin, phlegm-tinged chuckle, blue eyes twinkling beneath the twin canopies of his droopy eyelids. Sometimes, if he laughed too hard, he’d wet his pants a little bit.

Like Glenn told me: You can rage against the dying of the light, or you can feel fortunate that it’s not yet totally dark, that there’s time left and things to do.

But how much time?

 

**

 

As a young man I fought my way forward, a spoiled little brat determined to have his way, blissfully unaware of the obstacles and the odds.

Now I know what’s realistic. I’ve been through death and loss and tragedy, a shit ton of disappointment; I’m a bit of a grizzled vet, as are most of us when we’ve reached this age. Yet, even as I have a palpable sense that I’m closer to the end than to the beginning, I’ve never felt more idealistic. Or more powerful. Or more accomplished. Or more vulnerable. Or more frustrated. I don’t know how all these conflicting emotions can live together inside me as they do, but there you have it. Maybe that’s why my blood pressure is high.

Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t know things before you know them. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. There are plenty of others to make.

The good news: I’m not a career athlete or a leading man. Physicality is not my realm, I’m in the thinking game. Even as I slowly degenerate, my understanding flowers.

This is some of what I’ve learned:

Hard work, well enjoyed, builds a man, makes life, day by day.

Less is more, unless you’re talking about your bank account.

What you say and do are equally important.

That person who seems to be acting all weird for no good reason—you’re right: It’s them not you.

Sometimes your only recourse is to win by example. Don’t expect acknowledgement.

Nobody will ever hear your story in all of its richness and complexity. You’ll never be completely understood by others. This is why it’s important to try to understand yourself. Only you can bring yourself that kind of comfort.

I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers. In turn I have always tried to be kind.

The hard part is making stuff look easy.

The fullness of one’s schedule is not always the best indicator of the fullness of one’s life.

When you tell the truth consistently it’s easier to remember what you said.

The other human beings in our personal dramedies never perform exactly the way we might expect or fantasize, and neither do we.

With homeownership comes people with leaf blowers.

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The Theory of Originals: Strive to be number one in a class of one. Don’t compete; instead, form your own line.

When you reach high, you can fall hard. The great ones learn how to bounce.

Success is like standing in a field watching a sunset—it’s the most beautiful time of day, but it’s also the time of day when the bugs come out.

Heartbreak is the opposite of love, just as decay is the opposite of life. With one you always have the other.

Like it or not, life’s best course is usually adaptation.

When peoples’ stories don’t add up, when it doesn’t seem plausible something happened a certain way… chances are it didn’t.

Just Kidding: Universally the most insincere phrase uttered in polite company, usually meaning the exact opposite—I’m not kidding at all.

Go the extra twenty-five feet.

Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t know things before you know them. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. There are plenty of others to make.

Luck comes more quickly when you’re doing instead of waiting. At the very least, it makes the time go faster.

Sooner or later, shit will splat in your face. Some might get in your mouth. You may not deserve it but there it is. It’s how you cope that takes your measure.

 

Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. For more, click here.

 

All photos: iStock

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