Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Second Half of Life

A "Blue Moon" in the Desert Skies

Last night, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a bright light coming through my bedroom window. At first I was a bit disoriented by this celestial vision, until I realized that moonlight was shining through my window- a rare occurrence of a "Blue Moon" was shining in the desert skies with intense luminosity.

I got up and sat outside to take it all in. The triple digit oppressive heat of the sun-baked desert day had now subsided and a cooling gentle breeze now filled the air. The myriad of stars in the sky and the gleaming "blue moon" made the night glow bright in a gentle splendor.

As I sat and basked in the magical mystery of that nighttime moment,  I thought to myself,  "what a perfect icon for getting older and moving into the second half of life: the day is done and now comes the night with all it has to offer." 

Now that I am in my later years of life, I have been doing a lot of thinking about (and reading about) getting older.  Many psychologists and spiritual directors refer to the later years in life as "the second half of life." The first half involves climbing the ladder of success and building up the ego, while the second half of life focuses upon giving it all away. 

Up until a few years ago I had been essentially living in the "first half" of my life. Much of my  energy was directed toward climbing the ladder of success, developing my career, carving out a comfortable place for myself and for my family. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this- this is what one does in the first half of life. 

I had moved up from one job to other better jobs. I was doing all I could do to be noticed by people who could advance my career.  I had accumulated several college degrees, got to sit in nice offices, wore beautiful vestments, and had garnered more titles than I could even fit on one business card ( The Very Reverend, Dr. Canon- quite a mouthful).

One day (I can almost remember the exact moment) all of a sudden none of it was important to me any more. The upward mobility, the need to be noticed,  the places of honor, the earned titles of respect- one day I came to realize just how all unimportant it all was to me. On that day I entered into the second half of life.  The direction of my life had moved from the period of building up to the time of giving myself away.

Richard Rohr, in his book "Falling Upward" describes the "second half of life" in this way:

In the second half of life one has less and less need or interest in eliminating the negative or fearful, making again those old rash judgements, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish people. Your superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions. You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counterproductive, and often entirely wrong.

At this phase in my life I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior that my religion is the only one that God loves, or that my role or place in society deserve superior treatment. I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods; quite simply, my desire is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received.

Of course, a person's chronological age is not necessarily an indicator of entering into the "second half" of life. I know lots of 70 and 80 year-old narcissists. I also know many 40 year-olds who are in a "second half" of life - They don't take themselves too seriously and think more about others than themselves.

In my own case, chronology helped  - getting older helped to get me to that "second half" (I guess I am a slow learner).  

When I was a young man, I often wondered what people meant when they talked about the "wisdom you acquire with age." I think I now know something of what that wisdom entails: "You have to lose your self to find your self."

T.S Elliot once said:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there it does not matter
We must still be moving and moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion

The night  of the "second half" is magical, glowing and luminous, mysterious and unchartable.  The exploration - so exciting.  


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