A milestone birthday

July 23, 2014 | Viewpoints | Volume 18 Issue 15
Melissa Miller |

“I’m turning 60 and I need help,” I wrote in the invitation to my recent party. I was disquieted by the approach of this milestone birthday, beset with, and surprised by, regrets, laments and some form of existential anxiety. Still, the passage of time continues whatever our reluctance towards what it brings.

And a birthday is a birthday, and, as such, is an occasion to celebrate. Since I can always count on my friends to help me navigate life’s challenges, I asked them to bring to the party a story of joy or of “befriending life” (taken from Rachel Naomi Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessings). I imagined such reflections would lighten my mood and provide me with valuable resources for the journey.

I designated the event a “crone” party, which led my sister to inquire if we were going to wear purple gowns, burn incense and howl at the moon. Actually, the term “crone” has been reclaimed by feminists to mark a mature woman’s passage to a new stage of life, one characterized by wisdom, freedom and personal power. Purple, incense and howling are all optional. Hopefully, wisdom, maturity and freedom will abound.

Some birthdays carry more meaning than others. My grandmother declared she never felt old until she turned 70. My sister sighed as she approached 40, saying, “It’s not getting older that I mind . . . it’s the passage of time,” a poignant reference to sending her youngest to Kindergarten. My father approached the zero years by extending previous birthdays. “This is my third year of being 39,” he joked.

Turning 60 has lots of meanings, some of which we see as good, some of which we deem to be not so good. Given the decades I’ve enjoyed, I have a rich stash of memories, a number of which are coloured by joy and wonder. I especially appreciate having had the opportunity to watch babies grow into interesting, unique adults. And I’ve gained valuable knowledge, not just about the things I studied formally, but in life lessons: self-knowledge, including awareness of my limitations and strengths; firmer grounding in my deepest convictions; realism that can be tinged with cynicism; a greater capacity to take the long view; and ample evidence of God’s steadfast presence. It is a blessing to see 60 years, especially given the many whose lives end at an earlier age.

One thing 60 is not, though, is young. Turning 60 means I’ll be ticking a different age bracket in surveys, and qualifying for certain senior benefits. It means aging in a culture that overwhelmingly dismisses, demeans and devalues the elderly. It means I’m well into the second half—more likely the final third, or even final quarter—of life. That gives me pause. I ponder what I’ve done with my life and what I might do with the remaining years. I try to release the regrets, and use them as a springboard to make better, more satisfying choices in the present.

“I want to be married to amazement,” sings the poet Mary Oliver, as she contemplates living well in the face of death. That seems like a worthy goal. So is Paul’s counsel in Philippians 1:20-26 and II Corinthians 5:1-10, as he dances between the value of meaningful life on earth and joining Jesus in heaven. He concludes, “Whether we are at home with Jesus, or in our earthly bodies, we make it our aim to please Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:9, paraphrased).

All said, the party was great! And it buoys me to aim for the following as I become a crone. I want to be grounded in gratitude. I want to be open to amazement. I want to be full of kindness and compassion. I want to be fierce for the right reasons. I want to live in a way that pleases Jesus.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mymts.net) lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

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