(Originally published on Sixty & Me)
Increased longevity has created a new life stage in the middle of our lives – not at the end – and I call it Middlescence. Think of it as a second adolescence, but with wisdom, resources and the beauty of not caring so much about what the world thinks!
The evolution of my thinking has been informed by the work of anthropologists, psychologists, demographers, researchers… the list goes on. To help get into the holiday spirit I’m sharing from my bookshelf so you too can see some of the books that have inspired me to reshape our approach to the middle of our lives.
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, shines a light on how pervasive ageism is in our culture. A journalist and activist, Ashton Applewhite found even publishing the book had its ageist hurdles. Her premise – we have been surrounded by ageism since childhood. We have come to believe that it is sad to be an older person. Her explorations of the myths and stereotypes, and how they are perpetuated is well researched and interesting.
Applewhite shares her personal story of overcoming ageism – the genesis of the book – when she realizes, Ray, her conservative and white-haired co-worker is her same age. She panics, wondering if everyone will think she is also “old.” She works her way through by interviewing people in their 80s and 90s and resolutely decides not to live Ray’s old age.
The point: We must own our own attitudes about aging.
Recently, I was attending the funeral of a friend in her 40s and it was heartbreaking to hear about the loss of a loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. At the same time there was something positive about the family’s ability to let her go. She had made informed choices about when she wanted to end treatment so that she could focus on spending quality time with her loved ones. Ironically I had just finished reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal.
The subject matter is emotionally challenging, but Dr. Gawande’s style and storytelling flow as he shares the very personal experience of his own father’s demise, enabling us to relate on an extremely personal level. He articulates the ways our culture and health care system focus on life at all costs, often to the detriment of our health, wealth, emotional and spiritual well-being. We are a culture that uses hospitals and nursing facilities to isolate the dying.
Oliver Sacks said it best in his review of the book, “We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed in one’s declining years but life – a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances….”
The point: A life well-lived can and should have a good death.
The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom
Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom is one of my all-time favorite books. Working with beautiful black and white photographs, poetry, metaphors, and artfully crafted descriptions, Dr. Arrien introduces us to the Eight Gates of Initiation from diverse world cultures. She was a cultural anthropologist, educator and author whose profound work bridges cultural anthropology, psychology and comparative religions. Sadly, Dr. Arrien passed away in 2014.
The short, poetry inspired chapters share lessons and give the reader a greater sense of meaning and greater access to understanding life’s purpose. Each chapter represents one of the eight gates and covers topics including how to deepen your most valuable relationships, reclaim your untended creative talents and how to shift your focus from ambition to a greater level of spiritual maturity.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen described this book as, “a wise, unique and beautifully written guidebook for those who want to live every day of their lives.”
The point: Choose yourself and learn from the wisdom of others.
“When you find the courage to change at midlife,” Angeles Arrien teaches, “a miracle happens”.
I encourage you to share the gift of knowledge and inspiration this holiday season, for yourself, your friends and your family. Middlescence, created by the gift of increased longevity, can be a time of change, growth, and prosperity. When we embrace it, we can change the world!
Do you have a favorite book that you like to share at the holidays? Have you read a book that has changed your life or the way you view it? Have you read any of these three and have a thought to share? Please join the conversation.