SIXTY - An Essay by Kevin Salwen

Sixty. Damn, that sounds old. Three score; five dozen; a half-century plus an entire decade. Sixty.


Old enough to have ridden in Studebakers and Ramblers, having rolled down the windows with a crank. Old enough to have shopped for 45s by artists wearing ties who appeared on TV with some chisel-faced white guy named Dick Clark or his afro’d black counterpart, Don Cornelius. Old enough to have felt the discomfort of urban riots, the Vietnam War, Watergate. Most importantly, old enough to have experienced the pain of loss – of parents, friends, siblings, possibly even children.


It would be easy to feel old, to obsess on how I’m playing the Back Nine. But I don’t. I simply feel indescribably lucky. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize loss, of both my parents, of my beloved brother-in-law, of buddies from college. But I choose to marvel at the miracle of my life. 


Turning 60 has allowed us to experience so much. . . 

Just think for a moment about how the world has changed as the calendars have turned. Food is healthier and more varied (thanks anyway, Swanson, but you can keep your Salisbury steak). Technology now allows us to hold a jukebox in our hands, then tune into an educational podcast or a song our kids have recommended. Those same devices allow us to research just about anything, stay in touch with family, avoid getting lost without asking some clueless gas station attendant. And as the guy who often had to hold the antennas to get an adequate signal on our family’s black and white TV, I’ll take today’s hi-def any time. I could go on: medical care is mind-bogglingly good (albeit imperfect); hotels are infinitely more comfortable (although I do miss Magic Fingers); travel is no longer for the elite; media is more varied and far more interesting.


From a family perspective, I’ve gotten to build an amazing 30-year marriage to my college sweetheart, Joan. I’ve seen my kids grow from tantrum throwers to awkward teens to young professionals playing on their company softball teams. Someday in the near future, I’ll probably have some grandkids to spoil. What joy.


But 60 means something else to me too. Beyond the present, I find myself expectantly, almost breathlessly, looking to the future. I’m not a Pollyanna, I recognize the dangers in the world. But I’m 60 at a time when life expectancy has soared past 80. There’s a great chance I’ve got another couple of decades to build on what’s already been.


Over the past year, I’ve been involved with a Stanford University program that’s housed at the school’s Center on Longevity. What’s become crystal clear to me is that we still live in a world that sees 60 as old, from mandatory retirement ages to senior discounts to AARP’s nagging letters. Our systems have barely budged from decades ago.


But we have. We’re bursting with opportunity. We create businesses starting later in our lives. We keep our brains and our bodies engaged in thriving lives much longer. You could say that we’re 60 the way Roger Maris had 61 homers – with an asterisk. In our cases, though, the asterisk shows that we’re ready for next chapter, the coming creative burst. 


As for me, I’m finishing a new book. I’ve got another one in the pipeline. Then I’ve got a plan to write a screenplay – a process that will require studying the art form first before I ever put a word into pixels. The physical part matters too: I hit the gym every morning for cardio or some weightlifting or dreaded ab work. (Doing plank is so much fun, said no one ever.) And I always make sure to talk to my family as much as I can.


That’s what 60 means to me: A chance to build on experiences for a future full of possibility. I’ll slow down some time, but for now I’ll keep my eyes trained on what’s next, always aware that my six decades of living has taught me so very much.


So raise a glass and toast the future. Welcome to 60.