I’m on my way to my 62nd birthday. When my father was 62, he was an old man . . . or so I thought. I don’t think of myself as old nor do I think of myself as a 62-year-old. I perceive myself to be the same person I’ve always been although, admittedly, my body doesn’t always agree. Or even frequently agree. Now that I’m this age, I sometimes wonder how old my dad perceived himself to be when he was 62, and how old my sons perceive me to be.
MY LIFE’S NARRATIVE STRUCTURE
For a while now I’ve been seeing my life as a narrative. That narrative consists of three stages. The first was from birth to thirty. The formative stage. By its end, I had completed my education, had my first job, was married, and we were about to have our first child.
From that time until sixty I call the generative stage. I became the spiritual leader of a young community and worked hard to build the institution and serve its members. Susan and I built our family and home life. Our second child was born and raising our sons to be mentschen was our primary goal.
There was a hiccup along the way. I was 50 years old and suddenly at a crossroads in my career. It was a fortunate occurrence that forced me into reflection. I rediscovered my goals – and passion – for my rabbinate. It brought me to teach at the high school and to found B’Chavana. This hiccup put my reflecting into a new framework. For the first time in my life, I began to look back as much as I ahead.
THE THIRD, AND FINAL, STAGE
That change is especially keen now, as I enter what I see as the third, and final, stage of my life: from now until, say, 90. (Yes, that’s my plan. But as they say: “Man plans and God laughs.” And maybe She has it in mind that I should live to 120. Who am I to argue? As long as the Cubs win a few more Series.)
I find a lot of questions coming to mind: what have I done so far? What have I accomplished? What do I even count as an accomplishment now?
Where did I make mistakes? Where did I fail? Where do I want to repair those mistakes or accept those failures? I cannot change the past, but I can change its trajectory. If I hurt one of my sons, say – not even knowingly – and I recognize it now, I can apologize and work to change our relationship into the future.
And I’m looking ahead. I’ve lived my life with intention and done many of the things I set out to do. I now have the perspective born of those years. Good choices, bad ones – I am trying to glean wisdom from them. And I am trying to use that wisdom to determine how I can live well this last third of my life.
What do I want to do with this last portion of my life? That is the question that comes most frequently to mind. Fortunately, I love the “work” that I do. And, yes, there are pleasurable things I’d like to do, say travel. And, yes, there are lots of projects I’d like to pursue: writing a play and a book or two, learning to play more instruments, studying architecture, reading Shakespeare and philosophy.
WHAT RICHES CAN I SHARE?
But, most often, I come back to something a friend of mine once told me. Ed is a now-retired therapist, one whose practice focused on working with men of this age. He said that the men he knew were discovering that what they found most fulfilling was to share their wisdom. Having, for the most part, passed the age of generativity, they sought to share the life lessons gleaned from their decades of living.
To the idea of sharing wisdom, I’ve added: the ability to love and to share loving kindness with others. Certainly, that begins with my family. That will be my most important focus. I want to be a better husband to Susan. I’m thinking carefully about the ways I can be a good father to my adult sons.
And I mean it more broadly, too. I find that the pressure and responsibility of generativity is off my shoulders. I don’t have to build anything anymore. Most major life decisions are behind me. Sure, anything can happen . . . and, recently, we’ve seen that in spades. But, in general, I find that the love that resides naturally inside of me is more available.
Beyond my family means, first of all, my congregants and my students. Whatever my other roles and opportunities with them, I’m moving opportunities to share loving kindness up near the top of the list. How I’ll do that . . . well, I’m working on that.
It includes also, though, the many people – in a non-pandemic world – that I come into contact with. Cashiers at the grocery or cleaners, Lyft drivers, friends. More and more, I’m seeing my opportunities to bring kindness and even joy to them. Those opportunities range from a “hello, how are you and how are the kids” to a large tip for someone in the service industry or a patient, listening ear.
These, I think, are the primary riches that I have to share. It seems to me, now, that a focus on these will make this third stage of my life a meaningful one, indeed.
SPIRITUAL WISDOM FOR LIVING
I don’t claim that this is everyone’s story. We’re not all at the same place, for many different reasons. This is my story at my age. You have your own. Ours may overlap in some places and not in others. In part, I’ve written this as a matter of self-expression. In part, I’ve written it to nudge you to some self-reflection.
And, in part, I’ve written it as an introduction to our learning theme for the year: “How To Be Human: Spiritual Wisdom for Living (at our age) In The 21st Century.” Next week, I’ll explain more of what we on the program team are thinking of with this theme. In general, though, it will aim at enabling us to live intentionally at this age and stage in life. I hope that it will succeed.