by Seth Rogovoy
I turn 60 on March 19, 2020.
For me, the passing of a decade has always been as much about how old I will be a decade hence as it is about what era of life I am entering (e.g., teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties). Turning 60 is as much about beginning the next lap, which terminates at 70, as it is about what life will be like in the decade of my sixties.
Once I became old enough to understand the arithmetic, I grew fascinated with the ease with which I could calculate my current age and my future age. As a kid – as I imagine the case was with most of us children of the decades beginning with mine — I was particularly fascinated with the year 2000, when I would turn 40, and with the strong likelihood that I would be alive to witness the passing of a century. What would it be like? And when the movie by that name was released in 1968, it only made the picture of life in 2000 more concrete. It would be the futuristic future.
My calculations of my own future ended with the year 2020, when I would turn 60, which, whether or not it was true back then, seemed pretty much to be a lifespan. I just looked it up and indeed, in 1965, the average U.S. life expectancy was 70. So, to some extent the limited lifetime expectations of my youth were backed up by fact – or statistics (which, as we know, lie). I’d probably live to see 2020, but after that it was anyone’s guess to hazard.
So here I am at 60 — the approximate age most of my grandparents were when I was five years old. They seemed old at the time; they were literally my picture of old age. Most of them would die within ten or fifteen years. My maternal grandmother, bless her, fiercely and purposefully held on into her hundredth year, through sheer force of will and determination (take that, Hitler, I imagine her thinking). Perhaps I will follow in her footsteps, although I don’t believe I will, and I’m not even sure I would want to – not without the discovery of some magical elixir of youth. Or even a magical elixir of middle age – I’d settle for that.
The me inside of me doesn’t feel the same age as my grandparents appeared to be. In an unreflective moment, I still feel young – like a teenager, a high schooler, high on politics and rebellion and existentialism and punk-rock, already set on a path of refusal and a willingness to bend the rules as far as I could – without getting into trouble. (Oh to have been one of those willing and eager to cross that line. Add that to my list of regrets.) The me inside of me still feels fueled and engaged by the world and its challenges. He still feels that there’s vital work to be done, work that should have been done in my misspent twenties, my child-rearing thirties, my wild, wacky, creative, and crisis-filled forties, my somewhat confusing but ultimately transformative fifties. I’m not giving up yet on that novel, on that biography, on that memoir, on that life filled with a mature, uncomplicated love. I’m not giving up yet on perfecting the first series of Ashtanga yoga, on writing and recording my best songs, on reading all of the 500 books on my must-to-read-before-I-die list. I’m not giving up on sharing my life’s learned lessons, in whatever ways I can.
That’s the me-inside-of me. But I, on the other hand – I do feel it. I feel it in the words that evade me in writing and speech on a daily basis; in the song lyrics I used to know by heart but now need to look up; in the facts I used to have at my fingertips that are now buried somewhere deep inside my brain; in entire areas of expertise I once commanded that now are just blank spaces, like a folder with no files inside. I feel it in the frequent and unexplained aches and pains that just come and go and mean nothing other than “aging”; in the onset of a severe fear of heights that I never had when I was younger; in stepping more tentatively when I’m out walking, especially on the lookout for anything that might cause a fall. This is the age where falling is no laughing matter (although I did fall just two years ago and laughed my ass off until the aches and pains set in).
And while in very good health at the moment, with no reason to think that anything bad is going to happen to me soon, and with the average life expectancy in the U.S. now approaching 79 (in Hong Kong and Japan it’s 85; in Israel, somewhat surprisingly, it’s 83; in Puerto Rico it’s 80 — take that, mainland USA!), I don’t think I’m going to drop dead tomorrow. On the other hand, that’s begun happening in my peer group with more frequency. (I faced that most directly six years ago, when my 52-year-old girlfriend died suddenly in my arms of a massive heart attack.) And friends and acquaintances my age are being stricken by cancers and tumors and unexplainable tremors – the entire range and gamut of medical indignities that are nearly as inevitable as the ultimate one.
For the moment, I’m fine, with perfect blood pressure and good overall numbers; relatively fit (could be better); not obese (but could stand to drop 10 pounds); and still mentally productive (although showing signs of decreased mental stamina). I do suffer from a few chronic ailments that are easily treatable with medications that virtually allay the symptoms. It’s a tradeoff, however – feeling good today in exchange for some long-term side effects that just might shorten my life at the other end. And last year, I had my first surgery: the removal of bone spurs in my big-toe joint. Bone spurs, at least in this case, is just a fancy, euphemistic way of saying arthritis, a degenerative condition that virtually cries out “old person’s disease.”
But things could be a lot worse. And, considering I’m human and how I’ve lived my life, things couldn’t be much better.
Still, as the weeks fly by to my 60th birthday, that ticking clock – not the one to my birthday, but the one that counts down to the end of this lifetime on earth – grows louder and inches more to the foreground. While I know that all things must pass and that death is not the end, my days – like yours, like everyone’s – are numbered. And so, a kind of race against time begins in earnest. How many more books will time allow me to read? How many more words – articles, reviews, books – will I be able to write and publish? How many more concerts will I produce? Plenty of all, probably. Plenty.
But it’s the counting, the sudden counting down, that makes all the difference. The tick-tock of the clock. I’m even old enough to remember when clocks did that.