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Living the second half of life

Published April 07. 2012 09:01AM

Each month I try to attend a Day of Reflection in a neighboring county.

Normally, there are around 15 to 20 of us who attend. This month, there were so many they ran out of chairs. The director noted the huge attendance was due to the topic: The Two Halves of Life.

I was more than interested in the subject because I had just written a column about what we lose and what we gain in the second half of life.

Much of the day's discussion was based on Richard Rohr's book, "Falling Upward." In writing about our "two halves of life," the well-known author says we spend the first half of life "filling our container."

While we look for our identify and our significance, we fill that container with our jobs, our home, our children, our possessions and our achievements. It's all about getting more and doing more.

In the Second Half of life, getting more and doing more loses its luster. We no longer want or need to play that game.

In other words, in the second half of life, many of us have a new or renewed search for meaning.

In that stage, Rohr says we finally have the courage to ask: What is this all for? What am I supposed to do now? Is there some deeper purpose?

In other words, we begin searching for significance and/or spirituality.

Many people are afraid of the word "spirituality." Some think that means someone who goes to church and prays all the time. But searching for more meaning leads them to understand the extended meaning of spirituality.

Rohr is careful to stress that the second half of life doesn't refer to chronological age.

"I've met 11-year old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life, and I have met 68-year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life," he says.

Often, it's some trauma or crisis that leads us to know we have entered the second half of life. Other times, we realize we are in the second half but we can't pinpoint any particular catalyst that led to getting there.

In our open discussions that day, we were asked to pinpoint when we knew we had left behind the first stage of life.

Several said it happened when a spouse asked for a divorce.

One man said it happened when he lost his job then his home.

One woman said it happened when she was in a serious automobile accident. She found herself hanging upside down in her car for an entire night before someone found her in the ravine. With almost every bone in her body broken and with years of surgeries and rehabilitation ahead of her, she said she knew the first half of her life was over.

While all of them cited catastrophes as being what drove them away from the first half of life, that wasn't quite the case with me.

I can pinpoint exactly when I entered the second stage of life. It was when I gave away all my furniture, clothes and possessions and moved to Florida with only what could fit in my car.

If that isn't leaving behind the first stage of life, I don't know what is.

I left behind the career I had nourished for decades, the job I loved and the people I cherished.

It was easier to leave behind possessions than it was to leave the beautiful people in my life. But I figured correctly that all those who were true friends would stay friends, despite distances separating us.

I remember vividly one day right before I moved when a close friend found me lugging garbage cans filled with my writing awards to the curb for the garbage collection.

She was shocked. "How can you throw away all that you worked for?" she asked. When she couldn't convince me to change my mind, she said I should save just a few major awards.

I saved nothing. Nothing except sacred memories.

While I know some of that was temporary insanity while I was still suffering from losing my husband of 41 years, the rest of it was an inner wisdom that came from the God who has always taken care of me.

What I came to realize was we have to close one door before another can open.

When part of life is emptied, it is filled again, sometimes with surprising blessings.

I made some of those decisions because I was moving from a big, 10-room house to a very small bungalow with no storage space.

But I discovered it was actually freeing in ways I never anticipated. There is a complete freedom in not being weighed down by anything.

When I left behind the first half of life, I also discovered the second half was far better and more meaningful than anything that went before.

I have embraced and enjoyed every stage of life. At each stage, I have declared it to be "my favorite."

That's especially true now. I am having more fun than when I was a kid. And I found that in searching for meaning, life grows more precious, more rewarding and more significant each day.

Don't ever be afraid of the second half of life.

Perhaps the best is yet to be.

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