Joining Hands Across Generations
– Your Fabulous Sixties
In Part One of our series on Joining Hands Across Generations, forty-something Tera Johnson-Swartz (founder of Midlife_It) posed this question to sixty-something Stella: If there were something you wish you could have told a younger, more naive you, or even a woman approaching or just entering midlife, what would that be? What's the best part of it - the sweetest, most savory piece you wouldn't trade for any flat-tummied-tight-skinned-dewy-eyed-wonder? Midlife women want to know…
Challenge accepted! Here we go…
The secret most younger people don’t know is that being in our sixties is terrific. In her book, This Chair Rocks, anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite quotes several studies that show people in our sixties are happier than at any time since childhood.
But the question is, why?
The answer has a lot to do with circumstance. People talk about making a bucket list but let’s talk for a minute about the Anti-Bucket List: The things you don’t have to deal with anymore when you get to this age. The list below includes some of those items, as well as some of the gifts we receive as we grow into our sixties.
- Your kids are grown up and you get to watch them bloom. Sure, you still worry about them sometimes, but you know they are being taken care of by responsible adults: Themselves.
- You stop caring about a lot of stuff that used to bother you. And that includes actual literal stuff: You don’t need to buy anything, except maybe new sneakers now and then. In fact, you discover the joy of dispensing with belongings you once prized.
- If you’re lucky, you’re not working or at least working less. That makes so many things possible: Helping others by volunteering. Developing your neglected creative passions. Sex in the afternoon.
- Grandchildren. You get to love them while your kids do the worrying.
- You’ve lived long enough to know that this too really shall pass. (Yes, even that.)
- Living in the moment. You finally realize that this is all we have. This day that you have a head cold, or woke up too early, is still precious and lovely.
- Menstruation, menopause, the whole catastrophe—it’s all over. When you walk by the menstrual supplies in the grocery store you just laugh.
- Weightlifting. Yes, taking up weightlifting in your sixties is great. Try it even if you’re not sixty yet. It will change your life.
- Forgiveness. It gets easier once you’ve outlived a lot of assholes (and when you realize more assholes will kick the bucket before you do).
- The beauty of the world. Once you let go of a lot of other shit, you can really see beauty out your window or in the park. And remember: The beauty of the world includes your own beauty, right there in the mirror, that you didn’t see all those years you were trying to meet some bullshit magazine standard. Your beauty is there in your face. Enjoy it.
- You’ll rediscover sex and sensuality. This may be the biggest secret of all: That our sensual lives don’t end at fifty or sixty, but instead take on new meaning, new depth, and and can bring us even more joy. Pick up any book by Joan Price to learn more.
- And you get to make it up for yourself. Your experiences will be unique (except for menstruation, I can pretty much guarantee that will be over!).
So in joining hands across the generations Tera, the best part of being in our sixties is this intangible and unavoidable thing we might call wisdom, or perhaps non-attachment. But what I mean by “non-attachment” is different from the traditional concept. Years ago, I went through a phase of reading Eastern philosophy and it struck me that the call to deny the self that runs through so many of those writings are geared toward men, whose lifelong quest may be to calm the ego and embrace the other. But women are conditioned from childhood to deny the self; perhaps our quest is just the opposite. If we were to design a woman-centered philosophy, it might call on us to calm our focus on those immediately around us and fully embrace both ourselves and our direct connection with the natural world.
It is easier to refocus on the universe at large once our childrearing responsibilities are over, and once we are at a stage where society does not expect a woman to be partnered. We know that we are innately sexy, whether we have a partner or not. And even the famous invisibility of older women has its benefits. In her autobiography, Blackberry Winter, Margaret Mead is amused by how much easier her anthropology fieldwork becomes once she is past childbearing age and exempt from what we now call the male gaze. Or just look at Miss Marple, or the other fictional female detectives who are so very effective because no one notices them. The key thing is simply to notice ourselves and the world around us.
If I had to sum all this up in one word, there would be several runners up: Creativity. Passion. Beauty. Love. But the winning word would be serenity. And by that I don’t mean some passive acceptance of what life has handed us. I mean the active embrace from moment to moment of the value of each woman’s life, those who came before us and those who will follow us, innate and inalienable.
Now that we’ve heard the perspective of a forty-something and a sixty-something, I look forward to sharing the thoughts of an eighty-something; that is, the generation before me. Look for these thoughts soon and join me in joining hands across generations and sharing our wisdom.