I’ll turn 60 this year, a milestone age in most views. I’ve settled into middle age at this point: 32-year marriage, house paid off, three kids through college with jobs and health insurance, two dogs. The dogs are good company, and we talk to them as if they are our children, half-expecting answers from their puzzled faces on cocked heads.
Married life has a different rhythm these days, a more casual loping after the forced march of child-rearing. Gone are the rigid schedules for school, auditions, rehearsals, driver’s ed, SAT prep and everything else that comes with 27 years of child-rearing. If I have to work late now, no one’s schedule changes as a result. If my wife decides to meet up with her friends after work, I can have a quiet dinner on my own and catch up on that stack of New Yorkers I’ve been meaning to get to. When I text my wife to let her know that I’m on the way home and should I pick something up, she replies “booze,” which is not so much a reflection on our drinking, but a wry rebuke of two decades of requests for “ground beef, milk and Captain Crunch.” But yes, we have wine with dinner on Tuesdays.
If you watch the commercials during sports programs, you’ll become convinced that middle age is for men a period of retirement anxiety and heath anxiety, of drooping midsections and, well, drooping other things. A lot of that is true: For the first time in my life people regularly ask me “how much longer are you going to work?” My stockbroker talks to me about my retirement horizon, and my doctor now asks about how much I exercise, and, in an equally grave tone, about my sex life. It’s good that he’s concerned in a medically appropriate way, but the latter question caught me off-guard and reminded me that health-wise and sex-wise, I can’t take any day for granted.
My middle-aged body reminds me daily of its work load over the last 60 years. My left knee hurts and grinds now, as I was surprised to find out when standing up the other day. A twinge in my ankle reminds me that a sprain that would have once taken two weeks to fully heal has now taken more than six. My back aches in some form every day. And even though I did not adopt the regular use of computers until my mid-30s, I am convinced that 25 years of improperly positioned hands on a keyboard have contributed mightily to degenerative arthritis that flares up occasionally and without warning in both wrists.
My complaints are small, and, as they say, no one really cares. My spouse and my friends are all going through the same things, and we laugh at ourselves and our comically aging bodies. This laughter cushions the sharp reminders of mortality: A close friend just came through triple bypass surgery, both his uncle and his father died relatively young of heart attacks. A friend died of ALS a few years ago, another just the other day. A lawyer colleague died of a heart attack in the Target parking lot — all guys my age. My email was abuzz this week with sad remembrances of a fraternity brother who died of MS, aggravated by years and years of hard drinking. He was recalled as a great guy with a big heart and alternatively as a big kid that never grew up, which made me consider for the first time how my friends will regard me in death.
My parents are gone now too, though pictures from their 59th wedding anniversary dinner at Marconi’s, when the kids were little, still sit on the family-room shelf.
Turning 60 makes me think about turning 70, 75, 80 — whether I’ll make it to those ages and what my life will be like: grandchildren, cancer, new dogs. Will my spouse and siblings all be around for those birthdays? I wonder about the age at which one acquires wisdom, that ineffable quality of intelligence, experience and understanding. The only things I have acquired that can be put in the wisdom box are the old saws we hear every day: Treat others as you want to be treated; live for today because the past is done, there may be no tomorrow; good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings; money isn’t everything; do the work of love.
At 60, I am coming to the belief that wisdom is understanding the simple truth in each of them.
Steve Awalt is an attorney in Towson. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.