I was struck by a short video of Jane Fonda talking to a group about ageing and the “third act” of our lives. First of all, she looks amazing and is well over 80 now. She began her presentation by referring to life as an arch… we begin, we peak and then we decline.
Not so, says Jane, for we must begin to see this stage of our lives as a stairway not an arch. It is a more gradual thing than we ever knew. We have outlived many of our for bearers by a third and now we must learn to use this time wisely by freeing ourselves from the past and renewing our commitment to life itself.
I always say that I don’t mind getting “older” I just don’t want to get “old” and I try to keep thinking young and being attuned to what is happening in our world. Jane Fonda’s theory is that we need to re-vision our past. Visit it and see where we made our missteps and set about to correct them, giving us a feeling of forgiveness for ourselves and for others as well. One cannot re-live the past but one can hope to learn a great deal from it.
She says that ageing can be a re-birth and a path to serenity. Also she makes the point that as human beings we can easily evolve and reach a sense of well-being within ourselves.
We are in “prime time” and much of our being here is luck versus genetics; no one is given a path to the future without some self-evaluation. We need to “finish” ourselves by learning where we came from and doing a full life review.
This will be painful for some as their choices were not great or were affected by others, but all of us can start a new path and re-invent ourselves for this “third act” of living. There is so much available to us in this third act; so many new roads to cross, new friends to discover and old ones to get to know all over again and exchange ideas and experiences. I worry when I hear that people are retiring at 50 and have no plans to do anything with their lives after that.
I decry the idea of a bucket list but there is some validation in the idea. I have always wanted to try sky diving and I hope to one day attempt it. I want to live every day in a way that brings joy to others and to me by doing that. I have always been a glass half full person and will not give up my optimistic attitudes no matter what assails me. I always have enjoyed the phrase “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”.
Not content to sit around all day in the house, I continue to read, cook, go to movies, see friends and generally stay committed to living life as I have always known it. My friends say that I have a wicked memory and I do remember a lot from the past, but mostly the things that gave me pleasure. I cannot dwell on the negative or things that went wrong.
So the question we are left with is this: how do we use our time in this third act to have ourselves reach serenity and a powerful feeling of well-being no matter what our physical condition is? It takes the right mindset to free us from all negative influences and to learn how to like ourselves as we are and to forgive ourselves. Then we can reach that powerful place as we conclude the third act of our lives.
James Pappas is a member of the CJNU board.