In the next couple of weeks, I will turn 60 years old, and more than any other birthday, this one is bothering me. I have generally been one that eagerly anticipated previous birthday milestones. I used to tell people the 20s are the age of responsibility, 30s the age of accountability, 40s the age of credibility, and 50s the age believability. However, I never had an “ability” for 60.
Part of my personality make up has been seeing the potential in people and situations. Over the years, that perspective served me well as I was able to help individuals and groups discover the possibilities and potentials they held. This ability was also very useful when it came to situations and identifying the possible options in dealing with the circumstances, as well as ascertaining how to move forward. But, as I approach this birthday, I am having a more difficult time recognizing the viable prospects that lie ahead.
To some degree, I am already experiencing “age discrimination” in my work environment. I no longer get the words of praise and public endorsement I received regularly from the management team. Prime opportunities that I was offered previously are now given to younger staff. I am no longer part of the “up and comers” that I was so used to being a part of. Even in job interviews, there is greater exploration of my plans for the future, rather than asking about my goals and dreams.
Even though they are a little harder to identify, I still have plans for things I want to accomplish before I retire or die. Except now, there is a seed of doubt about the length of time I have to conquer those ambitions. This seed of doubt serves as a springboard for wondering about the kind of legacy I will leave when I am gone. I spend more time wondering how people will remember me, as well as what difference my presence will have made. If the actuaries are correct, then I am entering the last quarter of existence. There is a growing sense of urgency encompassing these questions.
I do not yet fear dying, and in fact, I never have. Perhaps this lack of fear is because I am not at that stage in my development, or maybe it is because I am denying the reality of my passing. Either way, my awareness of the limitation of time is growing, and there is anxiousness about that limitation.
What is most pressing is finding my voice, and speaking out about that which I believe. I want to make sure that I give voice to those matters that I believe are significant to the well-being of our society. I want to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves. I want to challenge those who have the means and the resources to be of assistance, but do nothing.
There is an urgency about finding my voice because for so long I kept my voice quiet. For too long, I feared offending others, or risking my employment, or being wrong. I wanted to be sensitive to others, but too often the others I was sensitive to were the ones who needed to be challenged.
This is what it means to me, at 60, to be humanistic and existential. To speak and act in such a way that honors the dignity of others, especially for those who are regularly treated with indignity. To speak and act in such a way that the unloved experience love, the rejected experience acceptance, the judged experience mercy, and the defeated experience victory.
Maybe being in your 60s is about taking one’s accumulated life experience and using it for the good of others…maybe that is called livability.
-- Steve Fehl