Updated: Feb 25
Bryan and I connected over a year ago when we were attending an online educational program. My thoughts on caregiving and the lack of adequate care for older adults resonated with him. He reached out to me which led to a dialogue where we learned we shared similar points of view on many issues. He’s helped me learn various technology platforms and in the process we’ve become friends.
Last week we were driving on the way to an event. We were talking about my thoughts on aging, ageism, and the role older people play in our society. Previous conversations usually centered around the inadequacies of a long-term care system. A system failing in providing quality of care and quality of life for older adults My friend is in his thirties, but he has a strong emotional connection to the issues we were discussing.
Older adult years have been described in a variety of ways. Some refer to those years as our future selves. I embraced that for a time but have abandoned that in the past year. Thinking that refers to a time most of us can’t relate to, something outside of ourselves.
The Elderhood years, seems quite dignified and an appropriate terminology for that point in our lives; one of three main phases of life after childhood and adulthood despite the more detailed 7 stages of the life span : infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood, followed finally by elderhood.
Various euphemisms have been used to described this stage of life. Among them are: The Golden Years, defined in some places as the years of retirement, normally after age 65; the Senior Years or Older Adulthood, defined in other places as the years from age fifty-one until the end of life and old age Old agewhich has also been defined as, the leisure years in later life after one has retired from employment
For some time I’ve been referring to these Elderhood years as the Third Act of our Lives. I was explaining it to Bryan when a metaphor struck that resonated.
The younger childhood years are like being an understudy before you get the chance to be the star of the show. Studying the adults like the star of the show; their expressions, gestures, the ebbs and flows of the their voice. We learn and mimic them. We try recreating those scenes with dolls or miniature character replicas.
As we continue into our young years it’s like a dress rehearsal. Practicing the role, learning different ways to respond, trying out different parts, interests, hobbies, etc. Even trying out different costumes to find a style that that feels comfortable for our skin.
Then comes the main act. Aha, the performance. The star of our own show. Sometimes there’s one long run. Other times lots of short ones. There are cheering audiences, and jeering audiences. But we still go on, perfecting our act, or so it seems. Growing with the lines, changing roles and changing actors. Some remain with one play for a long period of time, others leave after a “short run” There are new faces and personalities with which to share the stage. Some of the plays and performances are more difficult than others, especially if you’re playing different roles in very different shows at the same time. Through the process you learn to dig deeper and deeper, to find meaning and bring authenticity to the roles you are playing.
You meet coaches and fellow actors along the way who guide you, influence you for good or bad, and some even help you perfect your craft.
But then, in what seems like the blink of an eye despite a long illustrious career, all the hard work seems to disappear.
As we continue to seek roles in later stages of life, we are often replaced by those much younger, even if talented make-up artists had to do their magic make the younger ones look the part of someone much older. It’s almost as if the curtain comes down on your career and you’re told, “Exit stage Left, there are no more roles for you”.
Why does societyhave the right to do that? We have more to give, more to say. We can bring a different level of wisdom, experience, or depth to those roles and create ones others haven'’t even dreamed about. Because, only someone who has walked the path into those Elderhood years could know the twists and turns, the landmines and hilltops. The qualities that go into making a star that never diminishes.
In these later years of life, people are often cast aside because the years of “productivity” are considered to be those of the young adult to mature adult years. It’s in those years that we spend much of our time accomplishing and doing.
Retirement shouldn’t have to mean retirement from society. It should not be a time when we are cast out or cast aside. Productivity and contribution comes in different forms and, therefore, we must change our thinking about contribution. A while ago I read the book with the title which seemed apropos in its concept: From Agei-ing to Sage-ing.
The later years, the Third Act, has an important contemplative component that has long been ignored and disregarded for the importance it represents to our society, to any society, and to the upcoming generations. These are the important years when slowing to a more peaceful time with more reflection and insight has value for those coming behind. We can consider that these years are the years we transition from driving on the highway of constantly doing to a slower stroll on the road to thinking. As Socrates stated: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” It is during these years that we examine and reflect.
While some may no longer be considered productive members of the workforce, we must not let changing capabilities lead to the inactivity that have others, who are more agile and possibly more lively, consider to be signs of inability and therefore, irrelevance. Older adults cannot be segregated from society, from our families and our communities, neither by our choice or by the choice of others.
We must take the reins to show the value our experiences have for those that come behind us.
Other cultures have it right, we need a society mindset shift about adults in their Elderhood years. If not, we are losing sight of our most valuable resource: our older adults.
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