Anx­i­ety and aches: perks of turn­ing 60

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Steve Awalt

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, half­ex­pect­ing 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 work­load 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.

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