The rooster three doors down crows every morning before dawn here in Mexico. I don’t need an alarm because the internal clock of Mr. Cock-a-Doodle-Doo relays the message to anticipate sunrise – the beginning of a new day.
Studies show it is the highest-ranking rooster that greets the dawn first. The others wait patiently before they join in.
Waiting patiently for something “new” to appear in life is an option. But moving toward newness – to choose a path out of your ordinary, do something different, make a first-time attempt – is an effort steeped in grace.
To feel the newness of life after fifty or sixty years of living is extraordinary.
‘Senior Wonders’ and the Rest of Us
When a Guggenheim Fellowship is awarded to a 79-year-old to pursue his writing, I am giddy with glee. Congratulations!
And while I might not understand her motivation, the 80-year-old grandma hanging from a 100-foot pole gets my admiration too. Stories of individuals in the last third of life who experience new achievements and try out new stuff are more common than ever.
“Senior Wonders: People Who Achieved Their Dreams After Age 60” introduces twenty-five individuals who achieved extraordinary success, for the first time, after the age of sixty. Next Avenue says these individuals exemplify “triumphant aging.”
But one Amazon reviewer wrote, “I was disappointed in this book. I thought it would be about plain ordinary people.”
I’m ordinary people. Maybe you are too.
Thinking you are ordinary is not a character flaw. It simply means in your life, as in mine, there are no paparazzi. My ordinariness includes a mortgage, a portfolio that isn’t doing much, a ten-year-old car, and days when I miss my firm jaw line.
I struggle at times putting my needs first (crucial in the last third of your life as you might not have another chance.) I want things I can’t afford but most of all I just want to be happy and do good work. This is ordinary stuff.
What that Amazon reviewer was missing is the connection between her – the ordinary person – and the idea of “triumphant aging.”
Can the last third of an ordinary life exemplify triumph? Or do we have to become a successful over-sixty entrepreneur or hang from a pole?
The Wonder Within
Grace is often associated with spirituality. Perhaps that’s one reason most of us don’t attach this word – grace – to the ordinary lives we live.
Author Cheryl Richardson calls grace, “a beautiful, benevolent kind of energy.”
This idea that grace is a kind of force within us – an available energy each of can use with discretion – means we have a lever to pull. One that can push us toward meaningful, exciting possibilities.
Using the movement of energy to make life new again is a triumph of living well in the last third of your life. Grace can mean “to adorn.” Even the most commonplace things can be jazzed. Julie now has blue hair (as in baby blue), Dee Dee throws her own first birthday party (very proud and happy with that event); Matthew (65) books his first ever online date; Rick smiles and breaks his budget to buy a piece of art he loves; Joyce (ever pragmatic) suddenly signs a year-long lease on an apartment in a foreign country.
With extra years in our lifetimes, we can adorn our ordinary lives. We can bring more first-time experiences, try out alternatives, do something differently and choose brand-spanking new ways to live life. This opportunity to explore who you are and arrive at a way of living that is nearer to your own personal values and desires is one of the great gifts of longevity.
Triumphant aging is making life feel new again. Triumphant aging is letting the past go and finding a fresh new start. Triumphant aging is to wake up excited about the day before you. Triumphant aging is taking a chance late in life.
Each of us has is the ability to infuse life with grace – this kind, benevolent energy.
This is the grace of an ordinary life.
A Bigger Room for Choices
When advice by gurus for living the last part of our lives is condensed, it sounds like this:
Find a purpose.
Be sure to locate your passion.
Throw a switch and reinvent yourself.
(You know, of course, I think this advice is high-minded, boring and not relevant for those of us actually blazing trails in adult development.)
I am happy to tell you that more and more individuals are bypassing the suggested “find your purpose” path and constructing lives enjoying “firsts” and feeling “new.” They are giddy with delight.
This time in our lives is not a walk down easy street. Not by far. When and why to leave careers, where to live, how to refine our engagement, how to finagle finances and keep commitments to partners and loved ones – are all factors in any life, ordinary or not.
Accessing “movement and energy” – the grace within each of us – means we can refresh our spirits, ourselves and life itself.
Individuals over sixty who “feel new” aren’t as rare as you might think. In actions large and small, people facing the last third of life break routines and habits.
They have knee replacements and heart transplants in Mexico and tell their kids they’re spending this Christmas in Portugal. The non-joiners become joiners. They cut the amount of energy devoted to friendships that aren’t reciprocal and use their energy to go on the hunt for new friends. Couples married over thirty years try therapy for the very first time. Other couples carve out very-married-but-living-apart lifestyles (this would be me.)
Whatever happened in the past is carried forward. They are not new individuals. But they are approaching life differently – in fresh ways.
Who am I and how shall I live?
Over the course of a long life this two-part question will become impossible to ignore conclude Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in the Age of Longevity.
At the center of building a productive 100-year life are plans and experiments. You need to experiment to find what works for you – to understand what you enjoy and value and to be insightful about what resonates with you.
Curiosity is the driving force of newness. Rummaging around inside the minds of bright-eyed Third Lifers, I notice there’s less fear. Not ‘no fear,’ but more space and room for choices that previously were shut down quickly.
In the 3rd Third of life, we now can contain a larger repertoire of behaviors. We can realize that experimentation is not just for the young; it is crucial at all ages. It is experiments that guide us to where we want to be next and reveal how we can navigate the transitions ahead.
Indeed it is this sense of experimentation and exploration that is part of the thread that runs through life. Now, more than ever, our hearts demand a lot more attention. Give that attention some action and our hearts become bigger. Big hearts produce more courage.
But making ordinary lives new again? Feeling new even as our biological age delivers a record number of years we have lived?
It’s a wow, but can you do it?
What small steps can we take to pull our horizons closer to lead us to moments of newness? Can we create different ways to do things and take a chance? Can we cultivate enough curiosity to lead to new identities?
This post isn’t about being new in town. It’s about how ordinary people like you and me are becoming wise and deliberate in finding newness. And what happens when you do that.
But it did start with my being new in town.
In a shared taxi after my first Newcomer’s Meeting in San Miguel de Allende, a woman from Kansas converses with the driver in darn good Spanish. I commend her. My Spanish darts in and out of my brain with rapidity so I’m impressed.
“You need to speak some Spanish because the locals will appreciate it,” this woman says matter-of-factly. Then she kicks into teacher mode during the 10-minute ride.
“The most important words are ‘por favor’ – please. Learn that one and say it a lot. Say it now.”
I do. “Good,” she continues. “After that, ‘muchas gracias,’ (thank you) and ‘lo siento’ (I’m sorry.)”
I repeat those too.
She tells me always to use the right greeting for the time of day and to smile when I say it.
Buenas Dias, Buenas Tartes and Buenas Noches
Okay she’s a little bossy but I don’t mind.
“For you the best thing is to try, try, try.” After a moment she adds, “And say this too. ‘Estoy nueva.’”
Then she made me say it until I got it exactly right. Estoy nueva.
“That’s it! You got it!” she said, “Tell them you are new. Say it over and over. Say, I am new.”
I say ‘estoy nueva’ all the next day and realize that yes I am new in town and because of this I make mistakes and discoveries every day. And so each day is new and this is precisely why my life feels new.
It’s a marvelous feeling.
When’s the last time your life felt new?
Actually you don’t have to bother finding your ‘new.’ You can live out your life with no changes at all. You can (and many do) even start to narrow life so choices are fewer and fewer. This is their comfort.
Life wants us all here. The grace of an ordinary life is the energy each of us carries within and how we use it.
If you want a new day, a new start or the feeling of “new,” you can find or discover it.
The cock crows for all of us.
Thank you for taking your time to read and support my work. I invite you to make a comment and join me on Facebook. Special thanks to all of you who continue to forward posts. I appreciate that!
All Photos by B. Pagano