I am freaking out.
Last week I attended a dinner for a friend’s 60th birthday. Last night I made a small surprise party for another friend’s 60th birthday – 60th birthday! I am freaking out; my friends are turning 60!!
“You also made me a party for my 40th birthday,” she said. (I don’t know what happened to 50) I didn’t remember (is that part of being close to 60?!) but I promised one for her 80th as well, please God. And if the time goes by as fast as the last 20 years, I better start baking soon!
I wanted to share some words of Torah with her in honor of the occasion but when I looked into Ethics of our Fathers, I found the idea that 60 is for ziknah – being old! I just couldn’t go any further. Yes, I know it really refers to the elders, yes I know you can break it down to “zeh kanah – this bought” – and discover that at 60 we have bought wisdom, through our troubles and travails, through our highs and our lows, through what could now be called a lifetime of experience. It’s good to have wisdom, it’s certainly good to have grown during the last 60 years. But 60 years!!OMG!
I was sharing with my class the other day the beautiful parable about a ship. In the early days of shipping, a celebration would take place at the launching of the boat – a ribbon cutting or champagne bottle smashing. Our sages suggest that we have it all backwards. The celebration shouldn’t take place when the ship goes out to sea but rather when it returns successfully, cargo intact – having battled storms and pirates and sun and sleet and a mutinous crew.
The same is true of our lives. The real celebration, the real “Mazel Tov” should not occur on the birth of a child. At that moment, it’s all potential. Nothing has yet been accomplished by this brand new human being. The real rejoicing should take place at the end of our lives when we have (hopefully) navigated life’s stormy waters with calm and wisdom and we have reached the shores without regret, with our humanity intact, and our relationship with God flourishing. That would be a “Mazel Tov” indeed.
While some may think “60 is the new 40,” I prefer not to pretend. I'd rather celebrate the accomplishments of my 60 year old friend – the wisdom earned, the good deeds accomplished, the family raised, the students taught, the relationship with God developed. Sixty is really a chance to look both backwards and forwards – to ensure that we really will be able to say that mazel tov at the end of our lives and to commit to use the time remaining to deepen and broaden and enrich all those accomplishments.
Yes, we’re all a little grayer and a little more wrinkled (I speak of myself now not my friend). Yes we’re a little creakier and a little slower (I will only play games now that don’t require sharpness and speed!). Yes, everything doesn’t work the way it once did (“the old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be!). But we have ziknah – or I hopefully will when I’m 60 (I plan to remind my friend that she’s older than me for the next 2-1/2 years) – we have experience, we have wisdom, we have acquired the status of an elder of the community. And it’s something to be grateful for and to celebrate! Pass me the chocolate cake! (and Lipitor…)