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Sexagenarian is not just a funny word l Chuck's World

 


Yearbooks have lost most of their power now. What used to shock me on the rare occasions when I ran across them, the stray moments preserved in handwriting, the DNA pressed between the pages, has become abstract now. It’s too far away, too remote for me to access in any meaningful way, and it’s filled with ghosts.

My teachers are all gone now. The calendar is cruel and relentless, and math catches up with us all.

It’s always an uneasy search. I run across an old yearbook, and a photo bumps my brain and I get curious. I wonder about certain teachers from my past, and I type their names into Google cautiously.

The problem is actuarial – the men and women who influenced me the most had some teaching years under their belts, and while I might have enjoyed the energy of the younger ones, the most significant of my teachers in high school had at least 20 years on me.

And I’ve got 45 years on that kid. Math, as I said.

The last teacher I was close to passed away a year ago this week. He was one day shy of his 83rd birthday, and the illness that took his life appeared to be short and not too uncomfortable. At least that’s the way he put it, a week or so before he died, in an email.

I knew what was happening. When I said goodbye last summer, it was to the last of my elders.

I’m not sad at all, although I wish I had a few more years with my friend. My mom is alive and well, along with three aunts (and aunts have no problems correcting your behavior, even when you’re at retirement age). It was just another passage, another milestone to mark.

I’ve spent the past year being 60. It began with a wonderful party with family and friends, and it will end with a reunion in the college town where my wife and I met and married. It’s been an unremarkable entry into a new decade, although from my experience this particular number tends to focus the attention.

I’ve been attempting to aid my friends in their late 50s with this number. I want to be Charon, the ferryman from Hades in Greek mythology who guided humans between realms of the living and dead. I’m more than glad to brief them on what to expect in this new era, and how best to prepare. I don’t bring up Hades.

My friends don’t seem all that interested in having a personal ferryman. That’s fine. I’ll just tell you.

Here’s the thing: You can’t argue with 60.

It’s easy to ignore turning 50, even with the psychological weight of being alive for half a century. If you pay attention to your health and don’t get any unpleasant surprises (and this is when surprises tend to start popping up), there’s nothing you can do in your 40s that’s ruled out once you pass the big Five-Oh.

Except jump. You can’t jump anymore. Don’t even think about jumping.

But 60 brings mortality into the conversation, along with a bunch of junk mail and unsolicited phone calls. People your age start voting in peculiar ways and wearing ridiculous shorts in all kinds of weather.

Friends begin to retire and fill up your Facebook feed with golf scores and hundreds of identical photos of sunsets, occasionally broken up with the faces of grandchildren.

Previously unfathomable futures now appear to be a decade away, and decades aren’t a sure thing by any means. Money and hair both become finite commodities. Joints begin to draw your attention, particularly knees, and while you can work hard on flexibility so that you’re still capable of kneeling down to clean the refrigerator, the odds of getting back up become interesting.

And every salesperson and public official and health-care professional will practice triage, assess your potential and act accordingly, which is often not at all.

I was in my dentist’s chair for 30 minutes or so last week for a minor problem, almost entirely cosmetic. I was trying to fix this before heading out of town, so a multitude of other dental problems would have to wait.

And as she was finishing up, my dentist asked me, almost as an aside, “Does that fractured molar hurt at all?”

It just made me laugh. I didn’t know I had a fractured molar. She might have mentioned it during the exam. It’s not like I can hear anything on that side anyway.

It just seemed funny, and representative of how health-care professionals will change the approach based on the calendar. A 25-year-old will go to the doctor with a slightly sore lower back, and within 15 minutes he’s lying in an MRI machine and getting a prescription for physical therapy while five specialists examine his films.

A 60-year-old with the same symptoms will probably get an Advil and a shrug. Hey, it’s gonna happen. Probably will hurt a bit, maybe forever. See you for your next colonoscopy!

To be fair, that broken tooth causes me no problems at the moment. It’s not going to interfere with another fun birthday, surrounded by people I love.

It’s just a sign of being 60, of inevitable obsolescence (and something about flossing, apparently). I can tell you all about this. Just hop on my ferry, and hang on. It gets a little bumpy from here on out.

 

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