If you weren’t born yesterday and you haven’t been hanging out with Rip Van Winkle, then you know we are in a time unlike any before it. In fact, according to a number of experts, the major shift in the demographic composition of our population here in America (soon 50% over 50 for the first time in history) and in every other industrialized country in the world is contributing greatly to the unique challenges we face at this time. Yes, increasing longevity, decreasing birth rates and a shrinking tax base are just a few of the rather startling implications this “graying” of our population will have for everyone and, most immediately, for those of us who are older GenXers (40 to 45), Boomers (46 to 64) and Elders (65+).
Of course, having failed thus far to address a number of the critical economic, social, cultural and ecological challenges we face, it is not surprising that many in government and as well as those of us in the general public are badly uninformed on the implications of this aging of our population and hence unprepared for both the serious consequences as well as the remarkable opportunities that lie ahead.
To be fair, a part of the problem also lies in the fact that as a species we’ve never been in this place before. There is simply no blueprint or script that describes what billions of us are supposed to do with this additional time we are inheriting. Surely there must be some purpose in the grand design other than more golf, bridge, time shares and retirement – something of genuine consequence that requires the presence of such an inordinately large number of elders on the planet at this time.
No matter the purpose, however, one thing is clear. Those of us who are 50 and older have arrived at the outer limits of the territory described in Acts One (Youth) and Two (Maturity) of the Human Drama. As a result we must now address the question of what can we do about it.
We can, of course, pretend we can keep doing in this new act what we did in the first two acts. We can also hope someone will actually discover that illusive ‘fountain of youth’ and allow us to keep tripping merrily along on our current path of that focuses so exclusively on youth and tries to deny aging. Personally, we would not want to bet the farm on the effectiveness of either of these choices, but then again…!
Instead we believe we would be wise to take matters into our own hands and write a new ‘Third Act’, one that defines new pathways and priorities, and new uses of our resources, talents and time. After all, we have plenty of experience and understanding gained from both our stumbles as well as our victories. We have the requisite skill and a number of resources. And most of all, we have the need to get the job done.
So we suggest we declare enough to the limiting, derogatory, condescending, marginal, and false roles assigned to those of us who are older GenXers, Boomers and Elders in contemporary society, roles that have made aging a dirty word and turned the process of growing older into a liability.
We also suggest that we remember to take time – as often as we can – to turn down the noise and fluff of the outside world and go to that place within where we can get in touch with the wisdom that issues from that “still small, inner voice.” We also suggest that we remember the value of gratitude and follow Meister Eckhart’s good advice. “If the only prayer one ever says is thank you, it will be enough.” Indeed, if we are grateful for all that we have and all that we are, we will be making room for more of what we desire. Finally, let us remember that it is never too late or too soon to live our dreams and that when we follow our dreams we get to live the lives we were born to live – lives of greater meaning and purpose.
Are these easy things to do? No. Unfortunately, we have been drinking the “Kool Aid” of unconscious materialism and habitual consumption and listening too exclusively to the opinions of others for too long. But if we believe that if we put our imagination, patience and understanding to work; if we let our hearts lead more often than our heads; if we remember the old African proverb that reminds us – “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – we can write a valuable new Third Act for ourselves and for billions more around the planet who long to lead more compassionate, sustainable, successful and grace-filled lives as we grow older.