In order to come fully to the encounter with whatever gives ultimate meaning, in order to really wrestle with the angel, one must be a free agent, not defined by another, or by cultural imperatives.
—Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit
In 2011, my research team and I developed three surveys, asking 2,752 people to provide insights about life after fifty. We were basically asking baby boomer subjects to define “a new spirit of aging” for the new millennium. More women than men responded to our survey, at about 70 percent to 30 percent. In our work in gender studies over the last two decades, we have found this result to be consistent and robust. We have also found that, in general, men write fewer words than women.
Craig, fifty-three, from Los Angeles, responded in this brief but cogent way. “I’ve experienced deaths in my family and some early health problems, but I understand where I am. I am finally able to handle what is on my plate—and what is on my plate is more than it’s ever been. One thing I’m especially doing is listening to life (and listening to some very good and wise friends). The metaphor in my mind is that I’ve now entered the middle weekend of a wonderful two-week vacation. I still have a week of vacation left but I am not entirely unaware that the plane is leaving next Sunday and the vacation will end. I call this next week of my life ‘Christmases Yet to Come.’ ”
As I followed up with Craig, he talked about the new freedom he was seeking now in his fifties. It was not the freedom of “escape” but rather of new engagement with life. Craig had married for the first time in his forties, started a new family (his daughter was six), and had decided to leave the business world to get a teaching degree. He was also volunteering in his daughter’s school and had started an educational foundation with some of the money he had made in the financial services industry. Craig was stepping forward into the second half of life with vigor, vision, and wonder.
Marcy, fifty-six, wrote a longer story, also revelatory of a new spirit of aging in her life.
“My husband and I are originally from the Northeast and have been living in Georgia for 18 years. M