ROSENSWEIG: On Turning 60

Avrum Rosensweig

By AVRUM ROSENSWEIG

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Mahatma Gandhi) 

Avrum Rosensweig

My zaidy’s face, with the grandfatherly whiskers, always seemed to reflect a day or two of not shaving. I always felt that he looked like Hemingway’s Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea. My zaidy always struck me as being old even when he was only 60.

Now I am 60 and I swear, I’m old. I can no longer be chayav kares – the heavenly punishment of being “cut off.” That’s good. But did you know that Theodore Roosevelt, Carrie Fisher, Syd Barrett, Leon Trotsky, Benedict Arnold all died at 60? So did Mahalia Jackson. Sixty can be old – and perilous.

My father, Shraga Phyvle, died at 61. Oh, that is a problem. Our teachings tell us that we begin thinking of our own demise five years prior to the age of death of a parent. I certainly am.

I am 60.

I am 60 and the youngest of five siblings. I am three-score and no longer ride a motorcycle, but my hair is long. I have hair, and that is good.

What have I accomplished? I launched and built a non-profit called Ve’ahavta. That is good. I have a 14-year-old son, Noah River. He keeps me young. He always has. Noah is almost my height. He knows hard words and what reverse psychology is. Noah beats me every time at hockey video games (I can never get a goal). But it is fun. A whole lot of fun. He is 14. I am 60.

Today, I’m searching my hands for wrinkles. They still look smooth. My face is somewhat creased though. I saw myself in the elevator mirror the other day. When I moved my head, so did the reflection. So, I knew it was me. I am a salt-and-pepper haired man who looks a tad hunched over. I’m 60.

I have life ahead of me. The world is my oyster. I’ll unearth my skills, talents and gifts, share them. If I live until 120, I am halfway there. If I live to 80, I am three-quarters of the way there. In 20 years, I will be 80!

My Old Age pension is available if I want it, albeit discounted from the rate I would get at 65. Now that I am 60, I have a particular understanding of the complexities of life. My bucket list no longer sits in the mud room. It is quite real, waiting to be unpacked. 

My head is filled with thoughts. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the number 60 embodies the rule of transformation. A principle in Torah law is the “nullified by 60” rule. For example, if a drop of milk falls into a vessel of cholent by accident, the unwanted element is “nullified” if the desired component is 60 times greater. Could it be I have a chance? 

Mr. Siderson, a member of my father’s shul, was 60 when I was little. He was spry, as I remember. But he was elderly. When I was five, I used to look up at the old man duchanning (singing the priestly blessing) in shul during the holidays. I was not supposed to look, but I did. The man was old. He was different. He scared me. Not because he was necessarily scary. Remember how the elderly would do that? His cheek-squeezes hurt. I hid because I was little and young. And that was only yesterday. Now, I am 60.