“It’s okay that you’re old; it means you’re not dead.” ― My niece, Gemma, at the age of 4.
Some say, “Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom.” This was certainly true the day seven years ago when I buckled my then four-year-old niece, Gemma, into her car seat. She examined my face closely as I leaned in to safely strap her in the backseat of my car.
Seeing the wrinkles in my skin she said, “Aunt Linda, you’re old!” I had an immediate, unedited emotional response, which she was perceptive enough to identify and know that I was hurt by her comment.
Because she loves me and didn’t mean to hurt my feelings in an effort to comfort me, she added, “It’s okay that you’re old; it means you’re not dead!”
She’s right. I’m grateful to be alive and above ground. I’m grateful too for the wisdom I’ve gained during my journey and the precious memories I’ve made and the people I’ve known and loved. Looking back, all-in-all, I consider myself pretty lucky. My life has not always been easy, but it’s always been worth the effort. I’ve not always possessed what I’ve wanted, but I always received what I needed, and most days it was simply the love of friends and family, and the ability to live comfortably in my own skin.
About two months ago, I began receiving unsolicited mail from AARP and supplemental insurance companies. That was followed by mail from Social Security. Given that I already had decided that I couldn’t afford to retire in the next few years, and for the most part still enjoyed working, I stuffed everything in a manila file folder and set it all aside. I would spend some time in the near future when I had some free time on my hands and take a closer look.
One day I opened another communiqué from Social Security. This time I took a minute to read it. It stated that I needed to enroll in Medicare within the next three months. My 65th birthday was approaching in January. Whether or not I decided to begin collecting Social Security benefits at the age of 65, I was required to enroll. I was surprised for a couple of reasons, first, my full Social Security benefits wouldn’t kick-in until I was 66, in addition, I was about to enroll in my employer’s health insurance benefits for 2015. It hadn’t occurred to me, call it some kind of denial, but I was old enough to be covered under Medicare. Oh, my!
I’ve always seen myself as young at heart and others who have known and loved me have confirmed that, yet in the past year or so, I have begun to pay more attention to the changes in my body and capabilities, the aches in my bones, the extra effort required for self-care and the importance of keeping a regular schedule and getting sufficient sleep.
I also began to see how others perceived me, especially at work and in public. In some circles as I aged I became more invisible. Service providers and retail clerks would often look past me, or not acknowledge me. I needed to initiate the interaction while I observed them sometimes falling all over themselves to speak to their contemporaries. At work I began to suspect that I was either being valued less or my employer was preparing for my departure and wanting to have a replacement in the wings.
During water cooler conversations at work with colleagues (that in itself is an anachronism) I was often not included or didn’t feel I had much to contribute. When I started a conversation, I frequently noticed people excusing themselves because they were busy. I know sometimes that my response to social interactions can sometimes be my own projections, which I admit to doing when my self-esteem is fragile, but I’m also emotionally intuitive and intelligent enough to get a pretty accurate read on others’ behavior. It’s one of the gifts of age and experience.
The Three Acts of Life
Like the three acts of a play or film, the first act is one of exposition. It’s an introduction to the cast and characters and the setting in which we live and where and when our personal narrative takes place. In life it is our childhood and school years, spanning roughly from birth to 25 years old. Often a dramatic situation or event occurs to the main character, the protagonist. For many of us, it’s when and how we learn to navigate in the world, in social situations which often are potential predictors of our future success or failure.
The second act is our working and adult lives. We begin careers, fall in love, perhaps marry and have children, maybe buy a house, or choose a different path of self-discovery, or destruction. Often in the second act, we are confronted with a challenge which requires us to learn new skills or develop an awareness and acceptance of our true selves. For me, this is when I came out as a lesbian, got sober, quit smoking, and began living a more authentic, emotionally-centered life. This is a time we seek out mentors and others who can help us on our journey of character development. Currently this period spans the years between 25 to 65.
The final or third act is sometimes preceded by a crisis, the loss of a loved one, a job, or a health crisis and if we’re lucky enough for our complete story to unfold uninterrupted, we will hopefully find resolution and live fully beyond our 65 years and more. This is the playing field I find myself in today. Yes, I’m mixing metaphors here, but in my third act I’m trying to sort out the true meaning and purpose of my life and legacy. Those are big ideas, though I’m humbled by them rather than feeling in the least bit grandiose. I name my personal journals, and my current journal is entitled, Light and Shadow. Following is an excerpt:
It’s been an interesting and introspective week. I guess it’s no coincidence that I named this journal Light and Shadow. I feel like I’ve been sorting through both, trying to identify both my shadow and how it impedes my life, and recognize the light in me, my higher self, which helps me live authentically.
One of the pieces of work today in my third act is to find alignment between my known self, how I intentionally appear and how I’m perceived in the public sphere with my true self, my fundamental essence and authentic self which is intimate, protected and private, so as not to be too vulnerable in the world.
Some things I’ve learned so far in this third act of my life are that the population of people over 60 years old worldwide is growing and the number of people under the age of 15 is diminishing. This simply means that the population of the world is aging.
I also learned some good news as I approach my 65th birthday. If one lives to the age of 65, they have an 80% chance to live twenty more years to 85 years old.
So, over the holidays when I have some time off, I’m going to review supplemental insurance and Medicare Plan B, plus decide on a prescription Plan D. More importantly, I’m going to spend some time seeking resolution in my life, with my relationship with myself, my colleagues, friends, family and loved ones and lastly my higher power. I’m going to make a plan on how and where I want to live and age in place, and finally decide what I want to be when I grow up. I think I already know the answer; I want to be a human being, not a human doing.
For more reading about aging and the Third Act of Life: