Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Key Questions

While transcribing some journal entries from 2008 for the book I am writing about the spiritual lessons of moving and finding home wherever one lives, I found material from a book I was reading at that time, Claiming Your Place at the Fire, Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro 

Leider and Shapiro write about "re-inventing" our lives as we enter our second half of life, as "new elders." Just when do we enter this second half of life? I was 60 years old when I was reading this book and even if I live to be a 100, I was already well into the "second half" of my life, and when I was in my 40's and 50's, the more realistic second half of my life, I was in my prime and certainly didn't feel like a new elder yet. Don't get me wrong, there is lots of good material in this book --and many, many others about how to live as we get older--but I have a bit of a problem with some of the terminology. 

I understand the need to label and name. Recently, I was putting together an agenda for a retreat I am leading, and I didn't yet have a title, a name for the retreat. I knew a name would help me focus and clarify the purpose and plans for the retreat. That had been true many years ago when I started a small writing and editing service I called Word Choice, and even when I was newly pregnant--the child growing inside felt so much more real to me when we picked out potential names. Naming is important, but somehow New Elder doesn't work for me. Another name I've heard used for this time of life is "second adulthood," and this stage has been referred to as "The Third Chapter" or even "Second Chapter." We Baby Boomers seem to be struggling to find a name, a title for ourselves and for our aging, but I suspect the real struggle is an individual one--how to live these years. 

That's where books like this one can be helpful. In 2008 I clearly was looking for guidance in what was an in-between time in my life.

My husband Bruce had recently started a new position as chief medical officer for Agrace Hospice in Madison, WI, and we were living in a bleak apartment we sarcastically called the LA for "luxury apartment." While we yearned to get settled in a new home, our home in Ohio had not yet sold, and we needed to wait. I had no idea what my life would hold in Madison, but hoped I could continue what had fulfilled me in Cleveland--a small spiritual direction practice, teaching in various venues on topics related to spirituality, perhaps even T'ai Chi. I wondered, however, in what ways I would need to re-invent myself, how I would need to adjust.  Even though the move to Madison was a good one, I had no idea what my next steps would be, could be. 

Leider and Shapiro posed some key questions to consider, and they seem just as relevant, perhaps more so, now that I am even further into my elderhood. pp. 37-38

Who am I?
      * What, and how deep, is my spiritual foundation?
      * What is my relationship with death?
      * Who are my spiritual teachers?
      *  How present am I in the moment?

Where Do I Belong?
      * How healthy is the place I'm living for me?
      * How at home do I feel in my home?
      * To what extent do I feel I belong in my community?
      * What opportunities do I have where I live to do the things I love to do?
       * How well do I manage my life so I mostly do what I care about?

What Do I Care About?
        * Who comes to me for help?
        * What are my gifts?
        * How am I using my gifts on the things I care about?
        * How fulfilling is my work?
        * How is the balance of work and play in my life?
What Is My Purpose?
         * How clear am I of my purpose?
         * How aware am I of my legacy?
         * What difference am I making in the world?
         * Who have I voluntarily helped in the last month?
         * What connections do I have to something greater than myself?

At the time I focused on questions of home, finding home. At other times I have focused more on the Who Am I? questions. Now I seem to reflect more on questions about my purpose and how to best use my gifts. However, one question flows into and relates to others, and all are part of our spiritual work.

We lived in Madison for almost 7 years, and I now know those were transition years in many ways, preparing us and ultimately allowing us to move back to Minnesota, to return home. I discovered while living in Madison I had retired. That was a huge surprise to me, but I eventually relaxed and enjoyed our years there. Now, however, I feel a resurgence of energy, of purpose, and feel I am in a place where I can use my gifts in meaningful ways. 

An Aside
One of the ideas I had started exploring not long before we made the move here was to start a group which would reflect on the key questions of this age and help participants enhance strategies and spiritual practices for this time of our life. I even thought of names for such groups--Contemplative Retirement or Enlightened Retirement Circles. See what I mean about the need to name? Anyone interested?

An Invitation
Which of the key questions from Claiming Your Place at the Fire resonate with you? Which ones are calling you for further reflection? I would love to know.

A Few Additional Resources
* Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood, What Matters, What Works, What's Next? by Suzanne Braun Levine
* The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
* Creative Aging: Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World by Marjory Zoet Bankson
* Creating a Spiritual Retirement: A Guide to the Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives by Molly Strode
* The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister




  1. Dearest Nancy: It's divine timing to ponder questions you posed in this post today, Feb. 27, one year exactly after my beloved Dad fell (the start of a painful journey to his death six weeks later). I've been feeling unbalanced and sad today; now I have something to focus on and I'm grateful! :-)

  2. How can it be almost a year since you lost your dear father. I am so glad today's post feels helpful to you. Please know you have my love. N


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