There is a danger in this emphasis on recalling one's story and the potential shift in attitude toward the world that it may imply. We may interpret this focus on recalling our own story as ego-driven, even arrogant. But that assessment arises from a misunderstanding of humanity's inherently heroic nature.
Each of us is born into a particular family at a particular time and place. These historical circumstances are as important as our genetic makeup. Unique advantages or disadvantages, challenges or privileges, opportunities or handicaps are inescapable ingredients of our own story. Neither are we born into, nor do we live our lives, in a vacuum. The combined consequences of the period and place into which we are born define us as surely as does our DNA.
And so, it becomes clear that from the beginning, we are not self-made. Others have provided for our well-being (or not) in a host of ways. And it is not just our parents or guardians who have done so. Unknown strangers who planted trees whose shade we enjoy, forgotten architects of the buildings we work or learn in, anonymous inventors of gadgets that make our lives easier—all these and more are the characters between the lines of our own story. And so, in recalling our story, we inevitably recall the stories of others.
Also, in the process of recalling our stories, we may realize how far our lives extend both into the future and back to the past. The human story carries on. In recalling our own story, we may be inspired about opportunities to act with reference to the legacy we shall leave. Awareness of the future that the young and unborn will inherit is part of our changed attitude toward the external world.
Soon after Dave's daughter, Amelia, was born in 1997, his dad pointed out to him something pretty remarkable. "I know your daughter," he said, "and she's likely to live 80 or so years into the future, let's say 2080 just to round it off. I also know my grandfather, who was born in 1870. That means I have personally connected with the lives of people spanning over 200 years. You know, it's often said that our children and grand-children make us aware of our mortality; for me, it's the opposite: I'm made aware of my immortality."
Dave's dad's observation is profound: Our lives have great reach, both forward and back. While few of us will live more than 100 years, nearly all of us will have had a direct influence on people's lives over more than two centuries.
What this should remind us of is how much difference our lives do make—no matter what. The mere fact that the range of our influence is so broad ensures that our time spent here on Earth has not been for naught.
Of course, this bestows upon us a heavy responsibility to do something with our time, to make the most of it that we can. But more to the point, it bestows upon us a real sense that we do matter, that we're here for some reason, and that emphasizes, as Dave's dad put it, our immortality.
And when we can tap into this, it can, if we hold it in the proper perspective, give us great hope not just for the future, but for the past, as well. The people we call new elders embody this by living more creatively than ever. Unlike mid-lifers who desperately try to hang on to fading youth, new elders are taking more risks to inspire new growth. They use their profound awareness of the waning number of years they have left to live as an inspiration for how they live their lives.
The ways in which we respond to this potential growth in the second half of our lives will be as varied as our own individuality. To express their purpose, some will plant trees, others will become environmentally active for the first time, others will seek to mentor the young, through writing, speaking, or direct action. The form of the purpose matters little; the desire to benefit future generations is crucial.
Our experience as new elders will be vital to the extent that, by enabling us to reconnect with our own past, it brings about a new relationship to the future. Capable of appreciating the power of the moment, we also care passionately that generations to come will enjoy opportunities as rich as those we have enjoyed.