Getting to 60

(Photo by James Petts)

(Photo by James Petts)

(Note: I first wrote this for Filipinas Magazine when I was still not quite 60. I’m posting it here for some friends who have just celebrated this big milestone.)

"It’s here. It can’t be stopped anymore,” my friend, Rey, ruefully stated over a clear mobile phone conversation that made the 5,000 miles between us immaterial.

It” is old age that’s no longer just creeping, but is actually galloping up on us, the boomer generation, famous for, among other things, the skillful (and often expensive) denial of the inevitability of aging.

Rey had just told me his latest senior moment, a seriously embarrassing one that was also hysterically funny. He had just gotten into the shower when he noticed that his vision suddenly became blurry. Being a doctor, his heart skipped a beat, well aware that such an occurrence could signal a serious condition. Reaching for his cell phone, which he always keeps close by in case of a patient emergency, he quickly realized his folly. Turns out he was still wearing his glasses!

Another friend, Gina, didn’t do much better. After finishing her weekly grocery shopping, she told her maid to wait at the curb with their purchases while she gets the car from the parking lot. Later, as she was turning into her driveway, Gina realized that she had forgotten to pick up her maid and the groceries! “To think it took me an hour to get home!” she exclaimed. This woman who is famous for her sense of humor also confessed that her failing memory has become a source of glee among her office staff. “I would call my secretary into my office and forget what I needed to tell her. So I’d go, ‘Nilda, what do you think was I going to ask you?’”

As you can see, we’re at that age when senior moments are already an unavoidable ingredient of our daily lives. Many people in my circle have turned 60, an uncomfortable reality that has jolted me into reflecting on what I want to do before I mark what seems to be a milestone birthday. I still have a couple of years to go, which helps, because I can have the luxury of slow acceptance, unlike when I turned 50 and I woke up on my birthday confronted with the realization that my future was already shorter than my past. It took a while for that to sink in – that I can no longer imagine life 40 years hence because, well, chances are I wouldn’t be around anymore to savor it.

I did a cursory survey among folks I know who recently passed the big 6-0 and the one thing that was common and noticeable was the mellowing, even of those who were actively asserting their invincibility despite their body aches, the thinning hair and the failing eyesight. In our fifties, we made it almost a religion to act, dress and look young, in the hope that such defiance of time will delay the inevitable.

But people who have celebrated the onset of their sixth decade seem to be more accepting of their age. It’s not resignation -- they’re still not willing to fade slowly into the night; rather, it’s reaching a comfort level that makes them relax, enjoy and be thankful for what they have, what they can still do, knowing that they’re now more able to engage (in activities and relationships) without feeling the need to scramble for an advantage or compete.

Beyond the hilarious and annoying senior moments (which are not just the domain of 60 year olds, mind you; short term memory loss starts happening at 40), and the manifestations of slowing metabolism (nodding off whenever one sits still, needing more rest between activities, inability to digest certain foods, inability to stay up late), there are other very real changes that can no longer be ignored.

“I no longer have the energy to act on something I feel strongly about,” one activist friend reports. “There’s some comfort in the fact that the world will go on even without my intervention.” While there’s more acceptance of imperfections, there’s also a lot of crabbiness about certain irritations. Watch, for example, how older people react when there are noisy, bratty little children around. “Tapos na kami diyan, we’re past that [parenting] stage,” is a common statement. Sixty-year-olds as curmudgeons? Do I see heads nodding?

“Anyone who tells you that his sex life remained unchanged when he hit 60 is a liar,” my gigolo friend grudgingly admits. The dwindling libido is in fact a hot topic when graying kindred spirits get together. It usually follows the long, detailed discussion of ailments and medications that starts off any gathering. Beyond the confessions and the braggadocio however is the more real sentiment. “I’m happy now just holding my wife’s hand as we watch a movie,” someone states. So far, no one in my circle has made the terrible mistake of leaving one’s long-time spouse to shack up with a young partner. On the contrary, there seems to be a greater appreciation of stability and the intimacy of familiarity. It helps perhaps that none of my friends have celebrity egos that demand feeding with trophy wives and boy toys, thank goodness.

Those in the Philippines say they actually look forward to being 60 because of the 20% senior discounts they will be getting from restaurants, airlines, stores and especially the movies. Makati City does one better: those with senior cards can go to the movies free anytime.

The best thing about growing to 60 (or thereabouts) is one’s ability – or is it a need? -- to laugh at things that used to be taken seriously. “So now I use eyeglasses, and I have a beef against them too. There is something in those lenses that impairs my memory, or perhaps induces some kind of hallucination. Why is it that they always seem to be where they’re not supposed to be, like they're downstairs when I'm upstairs and vice-versa?

“And did I tell you about the microwave at home? It heats up my cup of water, but then it keeps it there until it has gone cold again.”

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino