For ten years I have been teaching fitness to people over 60 – most are in their 80s, and I’ve had a really good run. But this year my students have been dying in a wave of loss that washes away one fab person after another at a rate that has our heads spinning. I have been teaching these four weekly classes of 30 students each for a decade, plus some shorter courses of dance and fitness to other groups of seniors.
It was all cool when most of the students were in their 70s and early 80s, but that was 10 years ago. Now many are well into their 80s and their 90s. Things get complicated and difficult at those ages. Because that’s old.
When you are old, your world shrinks. You lose your best friends, your siblings, your partner, and the longer you live the more isolated you become. Your doctor retires, it’s hard to climb into your claw-foot bathtub, people around you are freaking out that you are still driving.
Those of us who are in our 60s are not in that situation, at least most of us aren’t. Many of us have friends who are fighting cancer or who have lost that fight. We know contemporaries who have had hip replacements, tooth implants, and steroid shots in arthritic shoulders. But we’re still traveling and driving and in many cases working and creating, and most of our datebooks are not utterly dominated by doctor and therapy appointments.
It seems so profoundly unfair that we don’t receive an end-date when we get our birth-date. If only I knew how much time I had left, I’d have answers to a lot of questions. When I turned 65, I freaked. I figure I have 20 years left. Now I need to weigh the question of when I can stop hustling in order to just sit down and write. Twenty years are not very many years, considering how many books I want to get together and get out there. How many countries I want to visit or revisit. How many friends thousands of miles away I long to see. How many sexual and cultural and international adventures are out there for me. How much injustice I need to resist.
We aren’t old yet and if we continue letting our mood and fears spiral downward, encouraging each other to identify as old, letting the passing years dominate our thoughts, allowing our invisibility in the world to determine our self-image, then we’re going to waste the time we do have left. It’s hard. I keep having epiphanies about all the unfulfilled goals I need to let go – from achieving financial security to learning trapeze skills. But I don’t want to drag along in a depressed state of self-censorship that limits what I can do with the time I have left. There’s plenty of time to be feeble and failing, but not yet. We’re 60s people – we’re world-changers and butt kickers. Let’s keep it up. I want to live.