As we began work on this book, Dave had a dream that could only have been inspired by the discussions and content. He recalls:
The dream began with my death. I was in an airplane and it plummeted to Earth, killing all of us on board
I found myself in the afterlife, where I was given a unique opportunity. I was permitted to return alive to Earth for 24 hours, during which time I would be able to say my goodbyes to loved ones. I felt a great sense of urgency to communicate my feelings for my daughter and wife, especially. In the dream, I returned home where my daughter was doing her usual 6-year-old things—being willful, testing boundaries, exploring life in ways that would typically make me want to steer clear or distract her with the TV or a video. Instead, I felt incredibly honored to be permitted to take part in her world. In the dream, I put my head right next to hers and absorbed the world from her perspective. I wanted nothing more than to just "be there" with her as she was being.
Similarly, in the dream, I was frantic to spend my allotted 24 hours rekindling the passion in my relationship with my wife. I wanted to set aside all the day-to-day negotiations and compromise that go along with making a marriage work and just get back to the essence of what initially drew us together. Again, in the dream, I remember thinking how vital it was that I just experience my wife, Jennifer, as a person, without trying to impose my expectations or wishes upon her. I just wanted to drink as deeply as I could of her in the time I had left.
When I awoke, I was terribly relieved that it was all just a dream and that I wasn't already dead. But all that day, I couldn't help thinking that, in a way, the dream captured what life is or could be all about. What if, I wondered, I tried to keep in mind what a great gift this life is and how critical it is that I use all the time I have to let those I love know that I love them—not for whom I expect them to be, but for whom they are.
As we move into the second half of our lives, suppose we were to wonder if Dave's dream was, in essence, true? It's certainly a possibility explored throughout history in many works from great literature to popular culture. Think of Dante's journey through heaven and hell as he strayed from the right path, midway upon the journey of life in The Divine Comedy. Or of George Bailey's chance to see what the world would be like if he'd never been born in It's a Wonderful Life.
Getting a second chance in the second half of life is a desire that tugs at us from the deepest levels. Having an opportunity to rewrite the second chapter by drawing upon what we've learned during the first is a dream we all share.
As we approach our fourth decade, we begin to think a lot about who we are and where we're going. We begin listening to the still, small voice gently whispering "what is my truest purpose?" The "second half" begins at that time in most of our lives—usually between the ages of 35 and 55—when we begin to realize we aren't going to live forever. We begin to seriously value our most precious currency, our remaining time. This universal, sometimes unspoken, realization ignites the desire to live on purpose in the second half.
At the same time, pondering this serves to remind us that what we mean by the "second half of life" is something of a moving target. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, in 2001, the average life expectancy for men and women in the United States is about 77 years. So, statistically, most of us enter into the second half when we're about 38 and a half. Our 40th birthdays, of course, are more of a watershed point when we're apt to admit that we're finally entering "middle age." But that's changing, too. These days, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, people turning 50 can expect to live another 30 to 32 years on average. That's up more than a decade from the start of the twentieth century. And with advances in health care and medical technology, who knows how long the second half will be for any us?
Ironically, though, even as the years before us promise to stretch longer, the time remaining becomes more precious. While the perspective gained in the first half of life typically leads to a certain sense of calm in the second half, it also tends to bring with it a heightened sense of urgency.
What if, we may begin to ask ourselves, we do have only a short time left to live? What if, as in Dave's dream, we have but a limited time to finish the unfinished business of our lives? In what ways would we act differently? In what ways would our best and truest purpose show itself in ways that it doesn't now? What would we say that we haven't said? What would we do that we haven't done? How would we contribute in ways we've always wanted to but for one reason or another have held back from?
The realization that we may have a span of years ahead that stretches out as long as our entire adult life so far, combined with the understanding that, at any moment, we may be far past the actual midpoint of our lives, gives rise to numerous questions that cannot be avoided if we hope to retain our sense of vitality and purpose. And yet, as varied as these questions are, we believe they can be summed up by the inquiry we intend to pursue in the pages that follow:
As we move into the second half of life, how do we most fully and authentically claim our place at the fire?