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Something to Live For

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Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Old?

By Richard Leider

No lives are the same. They begin differently, evolve differently and end differently. Every one of us is an experiment of one.

The result is that the story of our lives is simply like no other. Yet there are some universal themes.

In the book, SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, we share (pp 21-22) a provocative glimpse of growing older from the movie "About Schmidt" starring Jack Nicholson. The movie begins with Warren Schmidt, a 66-year-old VP in the Actuary Department of Woodmen insurance Company in Omaha, Nebraska, waiting in his office and watching the clock until his career is officially over at 5:00 PM.

As the reality of retirement sinks in, Warren doesn't know what to do with his life. Retirement slowly begins to resemble a prison sentence. While watching TV at home, he is engaged by an ad to help a needy child in Africa. He signs up to sponsor a six-year-old orphan in a Tanzanian village. He sends a monthly check for $22 along with personal letters to Ndugu, a child who cannot read or write.

Throughout the movie, he ponders: What kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?

The movie ends as Schmidt receives a letter from an African nun who writes that Ndugu thinks of him daily and has drawn a picture--a stick figure child holding the hand of his benefactor. Schmidt sobs and the movie ends.

Has he learned anything? Have we?

What really matters in the second half of life is to live a life of both"saving and savoring the world." We have choices in midlife and beyond, regardless of our circumstances, to make a difference both in the world and within ourselves.

Take a few moments to ponder these questions:

1. I've always wanted to have enough time to enjoy___________?
2. I've always wanted to have enough time to help____________?
3. How can I both "savor and save the world"________________?

The second half of life can be a remarkable time for increasing self-understanding and deepening our spiritual awareness. To grasp this opportunity, however, requires some personal pondering. Through films like " Schmidt", and in countless other works of art and entertainment that raise similar issues, the eternal question of life's meaning is surfaced and resurfaced. Ponder this quote from E. B. White:

"If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.
If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
But I arise in the morning, torn between a desire to save
the world and a desire to savor the world.
That makes it hard to plan the day."

1 Comment

Save and savor -- The three questions you ask are good ones, but the last I find especially intriguing. Right now, as I transition to something like semi-retirement, I want to focus on savoring the world. I feel like I've spent the last 40 or so years trying to save the world through my career and volunteer work. I expect that as I continue with this life transition, I'll find new ways that I want to make a contribution (save the world). But I think I need to savor the world a bit more. Your first posting invites contemplation of possible activity. I hope others will invite a kind of contemplation of "inactivity" or just savoring as I think we Americans need to do more of this. Sometimes it feels like books, webs, and blogs about retirement really focus on "What are you going to do?" rather than "Who do you want to be?" I look forward to your continuing this line of inquiry.