Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Third Chapter of Life

One of the joys of working with people who are writing about their personal legacies is hearing their life stories and learning about changes they've made in their lives. Many of the stories I've heard have involved the changes the women and men have made in what sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls "The Third Chapter" of life.

In her book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, Lawrence-Lightfoot explores the "ways in which men and women between the ages of fifty and seventy-five find ways of changing, adapting, exploring, mastering, and channeling their energies, skills, and passions into new domains of learning." She "challenges the still-prevailing and anachronistic images of aging by documenting and revealing the ways in which the years between fifty and seventy-five may, in fact, be the most transformative and generative time in our lives; it traces the ways in which wisdom, experience, and new learning inspire individual growth and cultural transformation."

The author interviewed forty women and men across the U.S. and found common themes, among them the urge for "leaving a legacy", for "giving back" and "giving forward", and for "making an imprint." In the life legacy workshops I've conducted, these themes have emerged as well -- from women in their 70's who are creating art after a life of work as teachers and homemakers, from a retired man in his 60's writing a screenplay about being the only white member of a black baseball team in his youth, and from others who are devoting their lives to work for volunteer organizations after years in the corporate world.

For many, The Third Chapter requires a "paradigm shift" in their lives, often "to align our professed values with our actions, our rhetoric with our behaviors." Lawrence-Lightfoot notes that such a shift can be "confusing, risky, and passionate -- are likely to be more difficult and demanding than the learning we have experienced at earlier stages of our lives, making the journey forward feel more hazardous. The stories we compose are our only map."

If you've already passed the age of 50, I think you'll find the stories of people interviewed for the book both interesting and inspirational, especially if you're seeking a more creative, purposeful life. And Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's conclusions about successful aging and lifelong learning, the innovations required in our schools, and the need for intergenerational dialogues to challenge society and cultural presumptions, offer a compelling vision to bring change to our institutions and our lives.


NOTE: To watch an interview with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot about The Third Chapter, see Bill Moyer's Journal. Also, my recent blog posting on the Legacy of Education: A "Cherishing" School Culture reflects on one of the author's conclusions to her book.
The Third Chapter of LifeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Legacy of Education: A "Cherishing" School Culture

For the past two years, I've worked half-time for Wellsprings Friends School, an alternative high school in Eugene. My contract ended in June so tomorrow I'll be missing the first "morning circle" that marks the beginning of the new school year.

In light of my experience at the school, I've been thinking about the legacy of education in our lives. And, in my reading of Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's The Third Chapter this summer, I found the best way to describe the Wellsprings approach to educating young people: a "cherishing" school culture.

In the conclusion to Lawrence-Lightfoot's book, she quotes Mary Catherine Bateson on the need for cherishing to be fully open to learning throughout one's life:

"One of the things we know about the human capacity to keep on learning, to remain young at heart and willing to learn, is that it needs to be supported by cherishing. We needed to be cherished as infants, and as adults we need to cherish our children. But if we want a society of people willing and open and ready to learn, it has to be a kinder, gentler society, because we need a lot of mutual support to face change, to give up things we've always believed in."

The author believes that "our contemporary preoccupation with testing" in schools leads to "a narrowing and standardization of learning that neglects the building of the 'edifice' of life. And I believe that the parts of the school curriculum -- the arts and humanities, sports, and community service in particular -- that are the first to be eliminated when schools are facing budget cuts, may be the very arenas that support approaches to learning that will emerge as important to sustaining development across the life span."

Lawrence-Lightfoot calls for a "shift to a more embracing, generous, complex curriculum, and a more 'cherishing' school culture (that) will require changes in societal expectations, cultural priorities, and educational policies. In turn, it will require that teachers in our schools see themselves as lifelong learners, modeling for their students a curiosity about life and a fearless pursuit of knowledge; this, in turn, will nourish the imagination, questioning, storytelling, intellectual discipline, and adventurousness of the students in their classrooms."

In my view, Wellsprings Friends School models just such a "cherishing school culture." Its teachers show their love for their students and demonstrate their love of learning each day.

My hope is that the radical changes needed in our education system (and coming eventually) will leave a legacy of cherishing for future generations of lifelong learners.

Legacy of Education: A "Cherishing" School CultureSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Legacy of War: Wisdom for My Loved Ones (Revisited Once Again)

Seems like the subject of "war" keeps smacking me in the face year after year. Last month while meandering up the street at the Mississippi St. Fair in Portland a young man handed me a little booklet titled "War Is A Racket." Written by General Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated officers in long history of the Marine Corp, it was first published in 1935. I finally got around to reading the booklet and was struck by how relevant the General's viewpoint is for today.

On the first page Butler states that " War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives." He goes on in brief chapters to cover who makes the profits, who pays the bills, how to smash this racket, and concludes with "to hell with war!" Coming from a man who had "been there" in multiple combat operations during his distinguished service, he's someone whose viewpoint I wish our president and congress were paying attention to right now.

This morning, reading Bob Herbert's opinion piece in the newspaper brought me to tears. Suicides by our soldiers continue to rise. And "July was the deadliest month yet for American troops in Afghanistan. Sixty-six were killed, which was six more than the number who died in the previous most deadly month, June. The nation is paying little or no attention to those deaths, which is shameful. The president goes to fund-raisers and yuks it up on “The View.” For most ordinary Americans, the war is nothing more than an afterthought."

Herbert goes on to say that "It’s time to bring the curtain down for good on these tragic, farcical wars. The fantasy of democracy blossoming at the point of a gun in Iraq and spreading blithely throughout the Middle East has been obliterated. And it’s hard to believe that anyone buys the notion that the U.S. can install a successful society in the medieval madness of Afghanistan." I do not buy such a notion.

Once again as I posed 10 months ago: How do you view the legacy of war in your lifetime? What are your personal stories about war and its impact on you and your family members? Have you changed your views during your lifetime on the necessity (or lack of) for war ... in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and/or any terrorist organizations?
The Legacy of War: Wisdom for My Loved Ones (Revisited Once Again)SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Wisdom from Pickles

When I read the comics in this morning's newspaper, I pondered the wisdom of the two guys (at least one of them) who may be a few years older than I am ...


Reminded me to practice the first rule of effective teaching: talk less, listen more.

More Wisdom from PicklesSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Things You Would Have Said

Reading a story on the front page of today's Oregonian newspaper brought to mind why I think it is so important to consider your life legacy "before it's too late." Titled "A home for letters from the heart," the article featured a Portland woman's website that collects letters from people who have words they've wanted to share with someone but didn't or couldn't. You can check out the letters on her website at

If you have words you want to say to people in your life but haven't done it yet, I encourage you to do it today in person or by letter. And, if the person has died, write a letter to them anyway and read it aloud to a friend or send it to Jackie Hooper's website.

The Things You Would Have SaidSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Remembering A Rumi Poem

Reading the Rumi poem "Begin" reminded me of the time in my life when I often read his poems when I lead workshops for men in the 1990's. My favorite poem to recite was:

These spiritual window-shoppers,
who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

Those last lines aways surprised people and blew me away when I first read them. Of course, they were counter to everything my Minnesota Lutheran "nice boy" upbringing had taught me. It has been a longtime challenge to get to a place even close to living Rumi's words ... "It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you."

As far as starting "a huge foolish project, like Noah," I haven't identified a metaphorical "ark" to build yet (or the water hasn't risen high enough -- or gotten deep enough -- for me to get the message!).

Have you created "a huge foolish project" during your lifetime? No matter how it turned out, I encourage you to write about it in your ethical will. And, if you have such a project in mind, get it started ... and make it part of your life legacy!

Remembering A Rumi PoemSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some Rumi Wisdom

In the hospice volunteer newsletter I received today was a little Rumi poem with "life legacy" wisdom:


This is now. Now is,
all there is. Don't wait for Then;
strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved's table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill

then dance
the way branches
of jasmine and cypress
dance in a spring wind.

The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.

~ Rumi ~

Some Rumi WisdomSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Best Advice You Actually Followed

I read an interview with author Chang-rae Lee last month in which the interviewer asked him a great question:

The best piece of advice you actually followed?

His answer:

"Honor what you love, whether it's a person or vocation or idea."

Lee's mentor and good friend, poet Garrett Hongo, gave him that advice.

Knowing and doing "what I love" is the best guide I've found for living a contented life. Seems like it took me way too many years to realize that truth. But I'm grateful that I learned that life lesson before I'm on my deathbed ... and that I've had more years to "practice" than I ever expected.

What's the best advice you received that you actually followed?

Photo Credit: Denise Applewhite

Best Advice You Actually FollowedSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Time for a "New Look"

Since starting this blog four years ago, I haven't changed the "look" of the layout and color schemes. It's time for a more expansive layout that uses the whole screen page (which I find easier to read as my eyes age) plus allows larger photos and video screens.

I expect to begin writing more often about life legacy issues as my other work projects slow down in June for the summer.

Let me know what you're thinking about in regard to your life legacy or for creating your ethical will.

Time for a "New Look"SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Long View

This morning I heard an interview with Desmond Tutu on NPR's occasional series called "The Long View." Great interview ... as are many of the others in the series. Hearing Tutu's words reminded me that I had not written a blog post on life legacies for a long while.

For the past year and a half, I've been busy with a half-time job as Outreach & Development Director for a local alternative high school. It has been great fun being with teenagers on a regular basis (to complement my time with older adults). I started a blog for the school and have written most of the posts). Along the way, I've updated the school's website and learned a lot about social networks (joining Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Picasa Web Albums). Not exactly what I expected to be doing the year I turned 65! Guess I needed to challenge my brain with lots of new technology, creative writing, and photography -- "accidentally" adding another chapter to my life legacy.

What unexpected changes have happened in your life that have added new "chapters" or life lessons to your life? And, if you were interviewed for "The Long View," what would you want to share with NPR's listeners (and everyone in your life)? Your comments are welcomed.
The Long ViewSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend