We will answer the question "Who Am I?" by recalling our story. Through a review of our lives, recognizing that it is a task of age in itself, not just a legacy for one's grandchildren and heirs, we will come to know ourselves better. The trigger points that make up our lifeline lead us to wholeness of self. They help us to see the totality of our lives and to find the meaning of our life as we have lived it.
We will answer the question "Where Do I Belong?" by refinding our place. We will allow ourselves to drift and to rediscover our place in the world. We will explore side roads and blue highways. We will postpone the end, postpone criticism. We will disconnect from the clock and let surprising opportunities present themselves. The one irretrievable loss is not living in the moment, and we will endeavor to live with this knowledge in mind.
We will answer the "What Do I Care About?" by renewing our calling. We renew our callings by paying attention to what we care about. We will grow along with others who are younger than we are. Growth is different than something that "just happens" to us. We produce it. We live it. The essentials for growth are the openness to experience new situations and the willingness to be changed by them. The moments of connection are what count.
We will answer the "What Is My Purpose?" question by reclaiming our purpose. We will reclaim our purpose by acknowledging that it is the mystery of life that keeps us alive. We will let go of our need to control, fix, or even understand everything. We will enjoy the warmth of the fire and spread that warmth around us in new, unexpected, and unexplainable ways. We will claim our place at the fire!
Increasing numbers of psychologists, sociologists, gerontologists, philosophers, and medical researchers have been finding that the commonly held societal patterns of aging and retirement are neither normal nor inevitable. Alternatives exist that we need to seriously consider.
The new elders you met in this book are not exceptions to some supposed general rule of aging. They are individuals who chose to become new elders. They have not bought into the notion that growth and youth are synonymous. All have been discovering hidden callings and initiating creative change. In their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s they have rejected stereotypes of aging and explored new directions.
It is tempting to stay in familiar territory, to tread well-worn tracks and retire from life. The danger is that we could stagnate and miss the opportunity to live on purpose for the second half of our lives.
The exciting news from our interviews with new elders is a story of purpose and possibility. It is an emerging story of new elders who are claiming their place at the fire. Their collective story is one of expanded growth and deepened purpose.
As we face the future, we have a choice. Not everyone believes we have this choice. We do.
We take our cue from the words of Robert Browning's character, Rabbi Ben Ezra: "Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be,/The last of life, for which the first was made."