The Next Chapter

Inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #104: Next Chapter

The focus this week is: next chapter. The implications may be personal, or strike a broader chord.

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book chapter

It is not often that I read a book and stop, grab a pencil (usually a pencil because writing in permanent ink feels just plain wrong) and underline…or trace a vertical line on either side of a Paragraph That Resonates. Resonate was a favorite writing group word when we’d politely critique fellow writers’ first drafts.

Does this resonate with you, the reader? If it does, why? 

One such book on my shelf – which made the cut when we downsized to a condo – had to do with chapters. In fact I bought it the year before we moved, but didn’t read it until 2017 – a few months after settling into our Next Chapter. It definitely resonated.

I rarely buy books anymore. No room. In fact this one is a hardcover…a rarity as well.

The book?

The Third Chapter – Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 years after 50, by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. A Professor of Education at Harvard University, Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot is also a sociologist and the author of 11 books.* She was in her 60s when she wrote The Third Chapter, which was published in 2009.

What a title! Who writes about older people and aging with such genuine interest and positivity? I mean…”passion, risk and adventure” don’t generally get mentioned in the same sentence with the over 50 crowd.

She writes with eloquence and detail in an immensely readable account of her 2 years of interviews with 40 American women and men who fit in this age group (50-75). People who changed their lives on purpose and with purpose. She tells the stories of how they got to where they are now – at a stage of life previously ignored or minimized for its potential and significance in our culture.

She had me at Introduction: Facing the Mirror where she begins discussing the process she went through in formulating the idea for this book…wanting to focus on…

…moments when we manage to resist the signs of burnout, make peace with the old/new mirror image, and refuse to be preoccupied with our chronic laments about aging or our sadness about our vanishing youth….

Ah yes. THAT mirror.

And then..

Many of the men and women I interviewed spoke passionately and longingly about how the Third Chapter is a time when they have finally been able to face the deep injuries of their childhoods — assaults that they have ignored, repressed, or fled from for most of their lives….

The stories she shares weave life experiences with an academic slant that I appreciate. She admits her subjects were actually able to embark on these new adventures because they were financially secure and had the means to make the choices they made. But this does not minimize the significance of their achievements.

What it did for me was bring into focus the alternate possibilities that might be out there – far different than what my mother’s generation saw for themselves. At least as far as I knew…from observing my own mother’s experience and struggling world view during her “third chapter.”

Even though I realize I wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of the more adventurous subjects interviewed (this blog has been my biggest adventure so far), it was inspiring nonetheless. There is also validation in seeing how someone steps outside the box of what aging has always looked like.

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This attempt at a book review is mostly meant to whet your appetite for this remarkable book. My “next chapter” continues to be a work in progress – especially these days. However…passion, risk and adventure?…still intriguing goals.

*Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is an author, educator, researcher, and public intellectual.  She has pioneered an innovative social science method called “portraiture,” written eleven books, serves on numerous professional and scholarly boards and committees, and has received 30 honorary degrees.  A MacArthur Prize-winning sociologist, she is the first African-American woman in Harvard University’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor.

Answers

Part of teaching is helping students learn how to tolerate ambiguity, consider possibilities, and ask questions that are unanswerable.

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

 

questions

 

And what would they be…the unanswerable questions…

We ask them all the time. Naively. Believing answers are forthcoming. Nice, neat, tidy answer boxes we can check off…putting our minds at ease.

Humans need explanations. Logical reasons for behaviors…and difficult situations. Doubt disturbs the equilibrium we crave.

Children’s why questions…usually answerable…

Why do I need to wash my hands?
Why can’t I touch the stove…run into the street?

Until they’re not…

Why are those kids so mean?
How come grandpa had to die?

As time passes, the answers thin out. They don’t cut it.
We see through them. The holes.  The exceptions. The weaknesses. The path to newer questions. Black and white fading to gray.

In the end…sometimes no answers. Not really. We’ve lived too long to settle. We know better. But still…not why.

Why is she sick with cancer and I’m not?
Why can’t the doctors figure out what is wrong with me?

Shifting realities pose more questions than answers.
Humans don’t fit neatly into a category of reasons why.
Too much mystery. Too many unknowns. Intangibles.
Questions expand. And filter down to the universal…

What is life?
Why am I here?
What happens when I’m not?

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I took a class in college – my one and only Philosophy course – entitled “Explanation” – and was immediately lost in a sea of questions. The professor with his PhD paced back and forth in front of rows of earnest young students like myself.  Trying to absorb his explanations of deep philosophical questions and answers. The existential questions of…life? To me…it might as well have been another language all together. I had no answers for him that I understood, but I offered them anyway on exams….and assigned papers. Fortunately the answers were good enough. To earn a B in the class.
I wonder how it would go if I were taking that class now….

 

 

This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #39: Unanswerable