What does 60 look like? 

I turn 60 this month. I had to go back and look at those digits and ponder them after I typed them. They look so foreign. Me 60? Recently, when people have learned that I was coming up on a milestone birthday, several have kindly quipped, “You don’t look 60!” But after the third person told me that, I thought, Well, what exactly does 60 look like? 

When I was a kid, 60 looked ancient. That was my grandparents’ age. When I went to work, and a I was PYT (Pretty Young Thing), 60 looked like those old ladies in cardigan sweaters on the executive floor. Now, that I’ve arrived at 60, it doesn’t seem that old. Here’s a little secret for all those not yet 60: it’s not that bad. Sure, I’m not as svelte or supple as I used to be, but on the inside, I feel the same as I did when I was 16–only a whole lot smarter. I know a lot more; I figured a lot more things out; I’ve achieved a lot more; and I’ve come to learn what is important in life. I think you spend the first 20 years of your life becoming you and then the next 40 creating and living your life—getting married, having children, building a career– and then all of a sudden you’re rounding the bend and sliding into third at 60.  

If I could go back now and visit my 20-yearold self, I think young me would be delighted and relieved as to how I have ended up. I’ve been blessed with so much and by so many people, it’s hard to mourn the passing of the years.  

As I mentioned in a previous column, I was fortunate to go on a Caribbean cruise (before the coronavirus hit), and the ship was primarily filled with passengers who were 50 and up, and let me tell you, they were having the time of their lives. Sure, there were a lot of people on canes or were wearing knee braces or didn’t exactly look like Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, but they were enjoying themselves, with a sense of they had nothing left to prove. They’ve married, had children, had careers, faced obstacles, become grandparents and survived. There’s no time to look back only time to enjoy the here and now and make the most of what’s left of your life.  

Last summer, my granddaughter Sadie, who was three at the time, was over at my house, and she was playing at me feet. I was wearing shorts, and she looked at my right calf that has a varicose vein that runs down the inside like a lightning bold, leaving a constellation of three clusters of spider veins. She touched one of the spider veins and smiled up at me. “Grandma,” she said, “I really like the blue spots on your leg. They’re beautiful.” 

I chuckled. Only a three-year-old could think a spider vein beautiful. “Why, thank you,” I said. 

A lot like a varicose vein. In one sense it’s an unmistakable sign of advancing age, and on the other its simply beautiful. 


 

I had the great fortune to take a break from winter and embark on a cruise in the Caribbean at the end of January beginning of February. We stopped at 12 islands and in addition to enjoying the feel of the sun on my face, refreshing saltwater washing over me and the warmth of powdery sand beneath my feet, I enjoyed something else—freedom.  

If you have never been on a cruise, you may not know that there are people aboard, passengers and crew alike, from all over the world. In addition, the islands are inhabited by people who have mixed races of African, Dutch, Spanish, English, French and local Indians depending upon which port visit 

Unless they were presenting a false face to us or it was the euphoria of escaping snow, not once did the citizens of any of the islands we met stress that they despised Columbus, felt oppressed, or focused on what color skin they had or you had. We were just people. Different in skin pigment and cultural practices but just people 

But they weren’t ignorant of their historyand they showed us the impossibly austere huts on Bonaire, where slaves lived while forced to make salt. We saw the Hato Caves on Curacao and the soot from fires on the cave ceilings left from the slaves who had hidden in there from their slave masters. In Puerto Rico, our taxi driver proudly showed us the monuments to Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon and told us proudly that Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Spanish, Taino Indian, African.  

In Antigua the store owners looked at us in amusement when we asked them if they knew where we could buy more sunscreen, implying do you think with my skin color I need sunscreen? On board ship, it was no different. My husband explained some things about the Super Bowl to an inquisitive man from India while watching the big game, and chatted for an hour with a man from Toronto who had immigrated to that city from Trinidad back in the 1980s. We laughed when he told me how cold his Caribbeanweight cloth pants left him when he arrived there in December.  

People on board engaged in games, enjoyed music, laughed, drank, swam, conversed, held elevators doors, and dined with people who did not look like them. It was so freeing. There was no looking back to the past and all the mistakes made there. There was only now. 

So, imagine my sadness when I recently interviewed a black businessman who had traveled the world and told me that he found Pittsburgh to still be very racist. I couldn’t argue with him; I don’t know. I’m not in his skin, but if it is, I’m very sad. Not only for him but for all of us. 

In the Bible they often describe heaven as a wedding feast, but sometimes I think it’s more like a cruise ship where all God’s children from around the world are enjoying themselves, laughing, dancing and feasting and the lyrics of Bob Marley are playing: “One love; One Heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.”  

By Janice Lane Palko 


By Janice Lane Palko 

“Your life is heading down one path, and then suddenly, in an instant, it all changes.” Those words were uttered by a former St. Benedict Academy classmate of mine over the holidays when she came to Pittsburgh from Florida for a visit after not seeing each other for 43 yearsSadly, she was forced to leave our high school back in 1976 when her mother suddenly died during our junior year. Several other classmates and I were able to reconnect with our friend after finding her on Facebook.  

If you use a GPS to navigate, I’m sure you’ve had this experience at some time. You plug in a destination, follow the prompts, and then maybe miss a turn or take a shortcut not recognized by the app, and you find yourself heading in direction plotted by the GPS. The app usually flashes a “Rerouting . . .” message and tries to reorient you toward your final destination.  

Life can be like that GPS. There were nine of us who were able to meet with our long-lost classmate, and as we sat around the dining room table in another friend’s home, we caught our friend up on our lives, and she told us about hers.  

And as I looked at these women that I’ve known since we were 14, I couldn’t help but take stock of where our paths of life had led us over the decades. Two of the nine had battled and beaten cancer. Rerouting . Two had been divorced. Rerouting. . .  One had suffered the death of a child. Rerouting. . .  One had had a husband and two sons deployed during the war in Afghanistan. Rerouting . . . Two had recently lost parents to Alzheimer’s. Rerouting . .  

Though all of us had suffered some sort of loss or faced some sort of difficulty since we last saw our friend in 1976, every one of us turned out to be responsible member of society. We were loving wives, moms, and, for three of us, now grandmothers as well as being teachers, accountants, chefs, nurses, etc. None of us, after our lives had gone off course, remained lost for very longEach had rerouted and plowed ahead with her life.  

But the larger question is: Where were we rerouting to? Where were we all heading? Although no one there stated it implicitly during our conversation, I knew that faith still played an important part in all of our lives. Sometimes I think that when you’re aiming for a Divine destination, it’s easier to reroute when life throws you off course.  


You may not be a person of faith; if not, I still urge you think of what you want your destination to be. Where are you heading? What is your lodestar? What are you going to chart your course to? Everyone needs a destination so that when you are forced to reroute, and you will during sometime in your life, you can still find your way. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you ever going to get there?