I hit one of those milestone birthdays this month. The BIG Six Oh is here and there isn’t a darn thing I can do about it accept embrace it, only embracing anything these days hurts both of my elbows which then hurt my upper arms, making me forget for a second the dead feeling I carry in my lower arms. Arms are over-rated. As long as I have my legs, I am good, or at least upright, that is unless I stand too fast and pass out.
People who say 60 is the new (fill in the blank with any age), should be slapped. Chances are, they won’t remember you slapping them so slap them real hard and take joy in knowing they are already brain dead while you still have a few cells left upstairs. If memory is the second thing that goes, just look in your medicine cabinet and see what went first, most likely it was a large chunk of money toward medical co-pays.
When I hit ten, I rejoiced knowing I got to play little league ball and wear a uniform like my favorite ball players in the majors. I might listen to a game on my little transistor radio or go to a Giants game and sit in the cheap seats which really were cheap ($2.00 was all you needed). Today, a fan can take out a second mortgage and still have to sit on a curb with a sign that reads, “I just want to take my kid to a ball game,” to enjoy a day at a ball park.
At the ripe old age of 20, all I really wanted was to turn 21 and move from my home town to Chico, California to finish college. I drove a ’61 Bug that required a gate latch on the inside of the driver’s door to keep it from flying open on every turn. Driving into the wind was very slow, but at that age, I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. A few clothes, a few friends, and a few bucks in the wallet went a long way toward happiness.
Somehow, by the time I was 30, I was all grown up. At least I thought I was since I was married, four years into my career as a teacher, and five months away from the birth of my first child. The house my first wife and I purchased cost $50,000.00, or about the same as a tank of gas costs today for my truck. We knew all our neighbors, they knew us, and we got along.
When the guy next door to me pointed out the roots from a tree in my front yard were causing his concrete in his garage to crack, I removed it. I didn’t send him the bill to pay for it because another neighbor across the street came over and did it for me as a favor. Friends from work came over and helped us install our above ground pool one weekend because that was just what colleagues did for one another in a small town (population 12,000 and stagnate) in northern California.
Ten years later, at 40, life in a small town (population 60,000 and booming) in southern California was pretty much the opposite. I was now questioning my choice of career and all the negatives that are part of the education system, but too unaware that they were not all that different in other lines of work. Three kids, a wife, and a growing awareness it now took more than a few clothes, a few friends, and a few bucks in the wallet to be happy. It also took a few days to recover from the things I use to put my body through half a life earlier.
Work was something I could bury myself in to keep from confronting what I did not want to face: a life that was taking on twists and turns I never planned on or asked for. My life cycle was speeding up with periods of depression, and the effort to hide it, followed by stretches of happiness, and the wonder of how long before the next cloud spoiled what I felt.
I’ve never been one to want to make a big deal of my birthday and the last thing I wanted was to do so when I hit the half century mark ten years ago. By then, I had been to enough 50th birthday parties to realize either I am not as happy as the others were when hitting 50 or I just didn’t think it was a big deal. I suppose it was a mixture of both.
The year before turning 50 was a rough one. A horrible bicycle accident nearly killed me, led to a growing challenge to my marriage, and now added a great deal of physical pain to add to my worsening depression. My career was one that no longer expected much of me other than to just keep teaching and enjoy knowing the end was closer than the beginning. Instead, fueled by anger and frustration over the hypocrisy my colleagues and I had to wade through, I made the choice to go out with guns blazing. I spoke out more, I questioned more, and I challenged the authorities more who I was convinced were destroying our students’ lives.
My community was also a wreck thanks to the crimes of Wall Street. Now over run with a base of humanity no one wants to have to build upon, crime increased, jobs disappeared, and no one had a solution. I was also in search of a pill to make me better, one that might clear my head from what seemed to be a near permanent state of depression. I was growing tired of the work it took to be me so I began seeing a therapist.
If life begins at 50, well, all I can say was you could have had mine for free.
So here I am now, 60, and I feel like life is just beginning for me. The newness of it is both exhilarating and downright scary.
A few years back, I finally found that magical pill and a very dark cloud finally lifted, allowing me to see and understand my life in a way I never was able to before. I am not so much a changed man as I am a fixed man, one who has been given a second chance.
Like anything new in life, it often results in the loss of what you once had and were once use to. I am now divorced from my first wife and fully understanding of why we both had to move on from each other in order to find happiness. For me, this has resulted in a new marriage to someone who is not saddled with my past, but still challenged by what she has said yes to. I have moved on from that “small” place known as Hemet, leaving behind a world I never felt comfortable with. I have settled here in Ventura County where for once in a long long time, I feel I belong.
Besides a new life and wife, I am faced with new challenges. I retired from teaching and am now realizing the challenge of finding a line of work I can go into in a world that has seemingly gone from the dark ages to a world that use to only be part of science fiction in terms of technology and the expectations placed on anyone desiring the most menial of part time work. I have gone from fresh, inspiring, and valued to being a dinosaur trying to stay ahead of an oncoming ice age.
However, I also find what brings me pleasure today is not all that different than what brought me pleasure when I was twenty. A few clothes, a few friends, and a few bucks in the wallet go a long ways once again. The time, health, and ability to enjoy my passion for running is no less than it was 40 years ago. The clarity that comes from no longer being under the grip of a mental health challenge has allowed me to sympathize with people I once loathed, be a more understanding and compassionate father and husband, and to know there is nothing I can do about how my life has unfolded, but there is plenty I can do about the direction it takes from here.
In short, I am a survivor, but I also know I am not the only survivor out there. If you are fortunate enough to make it to this point in life, you have survived plenty. I have friends who have survived major life threatening illnesses, financial ruin, career failures, and the loss of loved ones. The one thing I have found in common with people like this is we all have a tendency to say we would never change our lives for that of another person.
I am sure I will get knocked down a few more times before my life is over. It is not something I look forward to, but I also know it is not something to fear. Knowing you still matter to others is often the difference between surviving and succumbing. We can all help others survive by making them know they matter. It can easily be done with just a few nice words or a kind gesture.
Perhaps I suffer from a serious case of “Idealism,” but that suits me just fine because I have lived under the clouds of depression, cynicism, anger, and fear and I have come to understand that a little idealism goes a lot further toward making one feel good about himself.
Sixty is not so much the new me as it is the end result of all that has led me to this point in life. I am happy to be here and I am happy for the road of life that has helped me to arrive. Now if I could just remember what it was I sat down to write about.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.