Over the past couple of years, I have been growing in my appreciation of just about everything and everyone in my life. I am living most of the time in an almost sublime state of acceptance and gratitude. Fears about the future have somehow disappeared. My work is more satisfying than at any time I can recall and, by all accounts, is more impactful.
When I began this inquiry about aging almost 30 years ago, my vision was that the end of life should have as much possibility as the beginning—that age didn’t mean anything in terms of the quality of our lives or what we accomplished. Today that vision, at least for me personally, has become a reality.
Is this the way it is for the majority of people as we age? Was my youthful vision of growing older just that—a youthful vision without any real grounding in the experience of living itself? Have our ‘senior years’ been a well-kept secret shared by gleeful oldsters? Has the graying fraternity always been happier and has this stage of life always been the high point in this journey?
Obviously, the answer may differ from individual to individual. On the other hand, my own experience (and I am sure the experience of many others) does demonstrate not only the possibility that late life could be the happiest and best years, but also that we can achieve that possibility through conscious and deliberate living. When I contrast this to the conventional wisdom and the cultural story of aging, I am compelled to invite others to join me in publicly challenging our assumptions about age and work. If we change the conversation about aging now, there may be a time when people will look forward to the experience of growing older, when the prevailing expectation of late life is positive and something we look forward to.
I know there are lots of people who, with certain bravado, proclaim that they are happy in their later years but whose lives and moods and actions show increasing inflexibility, withdrawal, depression, boredom and isolation. It is a case of “Me thinks they do protest too much.” I don’t believe in formulas for how people should live. And I have no standards by which to judge the experience of others. I tend to accept what people say at face value and take them at their word. If someone declares they are happy, I trust what they say even if I know there is much more possibility than they are aware of. My role in life is not to make others happy.
However, I am committed to creating possibilities where I can and to sharing those possibilities with others in a manner that they are clear they have a choice about how they relate to the future and to their circumstances.
Consequently, my focus isn’t on those who are happy or proclaim themselves to be so. I am focused on those who are trapped in our culture’s story about aging and their relationship with others (especially the younger generation) and who are, in one way or another, resigned that they are ‘past their prime’. Resignation is the mood we fall into when we give up and lose touch with possibility. The cure for resignation is to create possibilities where none seem to exist.
What is at stake is the rest of our lives.