Turning 60

Anthony McIntyre on what it is like to turn 60.

The card that arrived yesterday from a friend in Belfast seemed to stare back at me as I contemplated it from its spot on the mantelpiece, emblazoned with a big 60. Stranger than it was startling, it was sobering to observe. Nonetheless, I am not one of those people who feel down in the mouth on reaching life’s milestones, labouring under a burden that growing old is somehow a curse. Ageing is part of the human condition and without it we could never have lived. The only way to avoid it is to never have been born.

It might not be physically great to be 60 but it is psychologically great to have reached it. While 60 brings with it all the associated problems of ageing, not being able to live long enough to experience those challenges is something to really rue. So many people encountered along the way whose brief candle in the dark flickered for a much shorter span than 60. And then there are those whom we never got to know who, to borrow that memorable phrase from Henry David Theroux, started digging their graves as soon as they were born. Thinking of those parts of the world where the average life span is considerably shorter, there is a feeling of Western privilege or pampering.

I got up this morning to pleasantly find when I came downstairs that my daughter was ahead of the posse, standing over a birthday fry-up she was cooking in the kitchen to which she added her own delicious brand of homemade pancakes. She is one of the two major achievements I can claim responsibility for. The other, her brother who is 12 on Friday, jested as he left for school that there was 48 years difference between us. Last night he told me the one regret he had about the gap was that I would not be around long enough for him to enjoy in his adulthood: so every moment for him is precious. Philosophical enough for one not yet a teenager. Although, the time he spends ignoring me as he games and chats with his buddies, growling if I interrupt him, makes me think he is having a laugh!

My wife who would normally kick-start this sort of occasion, was “stranded” in Belfast, having “missed” her train. She never in fact set out to catch it, enjoying the company of friends too much in the city to where she had travelled over a court case I am currently involved in. When she rang last night to tell me she would not make the train, I laughed. She sounded in the state of inebriation where I usually find myself. Last year she surprised me with a 60th brought forward by a year. If I wasn’t sure then as to why, I know for sure now!

Having to get two dental fillings before the clock struck 9 was hardly an auspicious start to the day. Then my birthday splash came on the Dublin Road while I waited on the green man to appear so that I could cross. A van came hurtling past and the spray engulfed me. That could only be laughed at. Worse things happen on the roads in conditions like today’s where the rain was a torrent for a time.

Age tempers. The world looks a much different place at 60 than it does at 16. Oscar Wilde once mused on being glad he was no longer young enough to know everything. The beauty about that is the sense of intellectual excitement and curiosity spawned by the knowledge that is out there waiting to be sampled before the brief candle flickers one last time and we cease to be.

Until then, live and let live.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

13 comments to ''Turning 60"

  1. I turn 50 later this year and feel equally as contemplative as you as I reach that milestone. Happy birthday and I hope you enjoy many more.

  2. Intimate, heart warming and life affirming vignette.

    (If we'd known we were going to live this long we might have taken better care of ourselves!)

  3. Happy 60th big man. Keep on rocking, keep on dancing...

  4. Belated happy 60th Anthony. Congratulations on reaching that stage in life upon which Bob Hope quipped,'...when even your birthday suit needs pressing.' The introspection, as always, finely articulated.

  5. AM,
    Who would have believed it, 60 again!

    That's the number of the house, lying're in were 60 a long, long time ago...remember, you senile auld git!

    Oh, happy birthday, and by the way I enjoyed reading your sentimental crap!

  6. AM

    You're still a young whippersnapper compared with some of us, with much fire left in his pen and "cough" pencil. Happy birthday for yesterday comrade.

  7. Bruce Jenner has broadened the possibilities for 60 something living, it's the new "40" I am assured. Instead of buying motorcycles, males can be reborn as females.

  8. HBD, AM - Youth is wasted on the young (Wilde or Shaw, I think there is a dispute who said it) but I agree the philosophical freedom that comes with age somewhat makes up for the physical constraints.

    Anyway kids keep us young - enjoy your birthday.

  9. How long til ye get yer buss pass? lol

    Happy birthday Big Lawd.

  10. Been there, Done that. Now get on with your life.

  11. Your son, whether jesting or not may get his philosophical nature from yourself. Loved reading these thoughts on your birthday.

    I guess many wouldn't have imagined, as youngsters, reaching 25 or 30 during the conflict what with the ever-present danger. Many decent men, women and children passed away much too early.

    Many die too early in any society but the conflict exacerbated the numbers.

    At least you can hold your head up high, you are still contributing to understanding the past under difficult circumstances.

    Good to remember as a society we are relatively lucky compared to the developing world. Not necessarily lucky as individuals but relatively lucky as an island.

    Glad you have such a positive outlook.

  12. Congratulations and best wishes from all the Cunningham and O'Connor clan here in the West Mackers.
    Keep writing till the end cara.

  13. Thanks to everybody for the comments. They are greatly appreciated


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