When I started my Mutton Club e-zine in 2016, one of my first writers was the very lovely Lynnda Pollio who wrote an article about turning 60 and how very strange that experience had been. Lynnda described getting older and particularly turning 60, as entering the youth of her old age.
I’m not about to turn 60, but have just turned 56. This means I am officially closer to 60 than I am to 50. My husband, being ever precise about these things said, you’ve been closer to 60 since you turned 55, a year ago. That’s splitting hairs I reckon.
At least until now I was still officially 55 which was in the middle between 50 and 60. But now I’m 56, which is officially closer to 60 than to 50. That feels quite momentous, even for me.
If you’ve read my work or listened to my podcast, you’ll know I’m very pro aging. We’re all aging from the day we’re born and getting past 50, 60, 70, 80 is a privilege denied to many in this world.
So I don’t see aging as anything bad and I certainly don’t attribute any shame to it. That wasn’t always the case, but it’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gone on my magnificent midlife journey.
I like the silver highlights coming into my fringe. I appreciate the wrinkles around my eyes and the frown lines between my eyebrows. The wrinkles mean I’ve smiled a lot. The frown lines… ah well!
But it still feels significant to be getting ever closer to 60, even for me. I’m sure the next four years will pass in a flash and I’ll be celebrating my actual 60th birthday before I know it.
I’ve already decided, unlike Lynnda, I’m not going to think of it as the youth of my old age. There’s a new term I’ve come across recently and I really like it as a way of describing the next stage of my life. It comes without the negative connotations which sadly are still deeply associated with older and old age.
That word is elderhood and I really like it. So I feel happy to be getting ever closer to the youth of my elderhood. I like the idea that I’m becoming an elder. Being an elder carries all sorts of positive connotations for me. In history, and still in many places around the world, to be an elder means you’ve reached the top of the tree.
Since about 45, I’ve not minded getting older, but I do still mind if anybody thinks of me as old, simply because that is such a finite term. In our modern world, where we increasingly distance ourselves from the binary to appreciating more of a spectrum, age is one area in which we don’t do that.
We still seem to go from young to old with very little space for nuance or variation along what is actually a very long timespan. We forget that even when we’re 60, we’re young compared to a 90-year-old. An 18-year-old is positively ancient compared to a two-year-old. The binary definitions of young and old just don’t make sense!
We also lump great swathes of population into categories without differentiating between them. The European Union still talks about the silver economy as being everyone over the age of 50. That strikes me as such a lazy and damaging categorization.
How can you possibly lump a 50-year-old into a statistical grouping with a 70-year old or 90-year-old? The needs of those different ages are so very different. We wouldn’t dream of putting a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old in the same age category, even though there are only 20 years between them, in the same way there are 20 years difference between 50 and 70.
We need to stop being binary about age and believing that as we get older, we turn into one big amorphous, undifferentiated mass which no longer requires the subtlety (or respect) of differentiation.
Yes I am older, but don’t call me old. Don’t put me in a box. I don’t think I’ll be old until I’m at least 90, and even at 90, I’ll be young compared to a 100-year-old. You can call me older and you can even call me an elder. I like being an elder.
Listen to this podcast episode where I talk about how we get better with age on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast
So what am I noticing as I turn 56? I care even less what other people think about what I say or do. I’m more willing to stand up and express my opinion when it goes counter to the prevailing ones and often gets me into trouble.
I’m getting better at appreciating the moment. Whenever I can, I try and slow things down because generally the world spins round at light speed.
I care about people and experiences, not things. So long as I have a roof over my head, I really don’t care what’s under that roof (so long as it’s tidy!)
My body aches when I get up in the morning, but I know that’s its way of telling me I need to go and stretch and do some yoga. And increasingly that yoga has to be done every day.
I’m interested in finding out why my body aches more and I’ve identified that I have very tight hips, so I’m working on opening those up as I get older. Yoga is one of those delightful practices you can get better at the older you get.
The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. And the more I want to make a difference.
Gratitude is something I try to practice regularly. I don’t always remember, and I often get swept away in the minutiae of the day. But getting myself grounded in the moment with a bit of mindfulness and gratitude is always a good thing to do.
So these are my ponderings around my 56th birthday. I’m getting closer to my elderhood, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just very very grateful to be here and I’m still busy trying to change the world.
This article first appeared on The Mutton Club.