While watching a movie about British retirees struggling to adapt to their unexpected second life in India, I realized that I had missed a recent major transition point in my own life. Since last August, I have been married for longer than I was single. Thanks to several other thought provoking moments in the film regarding marriage and aging, I also realized that my mental reference point was no longer 23. For the first time, I felt exactly my age, 47, and happily so!
Subtly, without my conscious awareness, my perspective has changed from eyes forward to a split horizon. I realize that I now look back nearly as much as I look forward. I have become comfortable with the idea that most of what I am going to accomplish in life has been accomplished. In fact, I will be happy if I am able to do half as much in the second half of my life as I did in the first. Birth, college graduation, marriage, children and three successful professional careers sets the bar pretty high for later life.
I am well aware that my perspective may sound a bit fuddy-duddy for a man my age living in the 21st century. I watch TV, so I know there are a plethora of products available to anyone who wants to buck the age game. There are options to keep our hair thicker, darker and more lasting, or to maintain other more personal things functioning in a juvenile manner. I just don’t share this intense interest in staying young. I am good with getting older and, hopefully, even old.
What drives us to want to live the first half of our life twice? What makes us decide it is better to back up and re-travel roads already traveled than head down new ones? Is it regret? Is it fear that our elder years will be boring and full of irrelevancy?
If it is the feeling that we have not done enough the first time, what makes us so confident that we will do a better, bigger job the second time around? Realistically we must know, no matter how good the artificial supports, that there is no way we will be able to play the game as well the second time. Alec Baldwin delivers the skinny on this reality in “It’s Complicated” – a movie that could easily have been titled “Never too old to be a Fool.”
Instead of trying to take a mulligan, I would prefer to play the ball well from where it lies. Our early years may not have positioned us exactly where we want to be, but the corrective action is to make the next shot count even more. It is not to pick up and start again. Life is ultimately a linear process. Retracings and do-overs just create awkward loops and stalled lives. Arrested developments are rarely glamorous or pretty.
Unfortunately, however, the reboot button has caught hold in our society. While the divorce rate has declined overall, “gray divorces” have increased with the aging of the babyboomers. During college, I remember a lot of my friends’ parents getting divorced. Even at that age, I remember thinking that it just seemed tacky and overly selfish. I feel the same way now when my contemporaries split after 25 plus years of marriage. Hitting the life reboot button just seems cowardly.
I am not suggesting that I am done working or have even done my best life’s work. In fact, I am quite sure that I have not done my best work yet. I am merely saying that I do not expect the quantity or the diversity of activities I achieved in my youth to be present in my second act. I look forward to wisdom taking over brute drive, allowing for more focused work in my old age. Accuracy is an old man’s consolation for the loss of energy – it is also a requirement for one’s chef d’oeuvre. I am good with moving forward.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.