My lifelong friend, whom I met in first grade, turned 60 on Thursday. Karyl celebrated by getting a massage and taking the day off of work. Another friend of mine turns 60 next Saturday. He would like to pretend the day doesn’t exist. Both of these friends prefer not to look at the speedometer. They just keep driving the car like they always have.
As I look over the list of birthdays from our classmates, there are several 60th birthdays every week. This seems amazing to us. Most of us are active working adults. Even the classmates who were lucky enough to be able to retire early have active lives with volunteer work, projects and family. It seems like yesterday that the junior high school boys were making fun of girls wearing bras, and the girls were in new discovery that boys existed. It is not yesterday, but now it is a fast-paced society with gadgets and communication devices we never could have dreamed of, even after watching “The Jetsons” on television. The 1951 Club, as we call it, has a different perspective than previous generations that have turned 60. Technology, both handheld and in the health field have made the seventh decade a different experience for those who were born in the mid-20th century.
What hasn’t changed is the developmental stage that psychologist Erik Erikson defined in his seminal work on life stages. Before 60 was named the “new 40,” Erikson called the stage of life known as middle adulthood (40-65) as having as its hallmark the dilemma of “generativity verses stagnation.” Now, as people are having families later and changing careers at midlife, Erickson’s stages might be a just tad off as to exactly when in the life cycle it happens. However, for those active adults turning 60, Erikson’s life dilemma becomes a major focus.
One young person told me this week that her father decided to bike ride across the country to celebrate his 60th. Others have given up careers to move into charitable work. Some do stagnate, but few choose that path as more options exist for older people in the communications-oriented 21st century.
I personally wrestle with the “turning” on a daily basis. I look in the mirror, and there is absolutely no way to fight the gravity that makes the wrinkles in my face, short of a pulled-looked facelift. I used to look at new careers to think about. Wouldn’t it be cool to be a …? It isn’t really possible now. With some friends getting sick and even dying, the options that were there at 40 are not there at 60. It is almost as limiting as our options were before we were “of age” at 21. As much as I feel the ceiling of my possible experience, I wouldn’t trade it for the wisdom that my friends and I feel we have acquired as we look at 60.
What I have done is to try and make a light and have fun with turning 60. I know our interns and other young people consider us old, so I began calling myself the “old goat.” Then, one day, while seeing what goats do for people in Africa, I got the idea of turning my impending 60th birthday into a way to raise money for goats.
I got up one morning, and purchased the website GoatsfortheOldGoat.com. With my friends from Christian Solidarity International and Mississippi Cares International, we decided to turn the pain of turning to the seventh decade into a way to help people. GoatsfortheOldGoat.com was born.
Our idea is to raise money for goats for people in Sudan and to give life and food and hope to people who really need it. We want to make turning into an old goat at 60 into something positive and wonderful and have fun doing it.
Goats are a great source of nutrition, and they can feed on the grasses growing in the sometimes arid and sometimes rainy climate of South Sudan. They are less expensive than cows, and groups of villagers can care for them by taking turns watching them. Goat milk can make the difference between malnutrition and a healthy diet. They multiply quickly, too.
Now, when this old goat looks in the mirror I see the wrinkles, but instead of thinking about a facelift, I think about what a goat can do for others. Yes, it is a way of coping with turning 60, but I can smile knowing that I am going to move through this period to old age with a sense of creation and generatively instead of stagnation.