“Sixty is just a number,” a friend wrote in my birthday card. Yes, I thought to myself, and so is my weight, just a number.
Funny that out of all the ways I can be measured, age in years and weight in pounds have the greatest power to depress me.
Sometimes our culture encourages me to see myself as inferior because of my age and size. Other times, more often, I become my own worst enemy by allowing my biased notions of what these measurements represent devalue my worth in my own eyes.
I begin allowing numbers to control my attitude. (And, yes, I tried, unsuccessfully, to lose weight before arriving at age 60.)
Months before my 60th birthday, I was dreading it. When I dread something, I talk about it. So last spring, I had this conversation with my oldest daughter, Katie.
Me: “I read somewhere that experiences make us happier than material items. So I’m thinking I’d like an experience for my birthday, rather than gifts.”
Katie: “What did you have in mind?”
Me: “I don’t know, really. Just being with my family. Being with you all might ease the shock of turning 60.”
Katie: “You’re turning 60! I had forgotten. I wondered why you were talking about your birthday so early.”
Nothing more was said until about six weeks before my birthday when Katie asked me to save the date for a party at her home. I did.
Knowing there was a plan, an experience to anticipate, eased some of the anguish of leaving my 50s.
When I arrived for my party, 2-year-old Tommy greeted me at the door, wearing a party hat and squeaking a noisemaker. “Happy birthday, Nini!” he pronounced, between squeaks.
This may sound simplistic, but Tommy’s birthday greeting was all I needed to make me feel as if 60 is a wonderful age.
And so it began: the happiest party of my life. I was surrounded by loved ones, all four adult children with their spouses or significant others, my grandchildren, and my best friend. I was treated to a DVD of memories, including photos of my childhood, my grandparents, my parents, and the early years of raising my family. My children created tributes, edited into the mix.
In addition, my daughters had commissioned letters from family and friends who weren’t able to join us, and they presented me with a scrapbook including these letters.
Exactly on my birthday, the previous year, I had said goodbye to my son as he deployed for Afghanistan. At this year’s birthday, my son presented me with an American flag he had flown on missions in Afghanistan. We had come full circle. All the pain of the nine months he was at war dissipated with the joy of his safe return last May. And, one year after telling him goodbye, I received with a grateful heart a flag symbolizing his sacrifice (and, in a much smaller way, mine, too.)
I discovered that turning 60 was nothing to fear or dread. Sixty was to be received with a glad heart. This opportunity to be here at this time in my life with these people was God’s gift to me. Indeed, from the moment I was born, God has been providing me people to love and be loved by.
How can I possibly find fault with sixty years of grace?
Yes, 60 is a number. It’s a grand number, representing God’s largesse, a lifetime of love.