I recently encountered a new blog in which the writer intends to explore the “third act” of life, i.e. the time past age 55. She begins by telling that her grandmother at age 65 wondered how she had gotten so old, then mentions another aging woman who, when an older relative died, said she wasn’t ready to be the matriarch of the family. The writer now finds herself in the same situation: “I do not know how it happened either. I am pushing 6o. I, who seemed to be stuck forever at 16, I am old.” She recently came to her mother’s house to serve as a caretaker, and says, “I am woefully unprepared but I am learning, relearning, learning for myself that we all come to this unprepared and astonished to be so. This is the third act and I am already on stage, horrified to discover this is improv.”
None of us are ready to be old. Of course, by the time we’re in the “third act,” our lack of preparation shouldn’t come as a surprise. We weren’t ready for any of the transitions we went through up to this point. At least I wasn’t. Kindergarten? Secondary School? College? Adulthood? A Career? Marriage? Parenthood? Midlife? I didn’t figure out any of those roles until I had been on stage for a while. Some of them I never got down. Samuel Butler said “Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” How true.
At present, I’m realizing that I don’t know how to act or think or feel now that one of my parents is dead. During the funeral home visitation for my dad on September 5, a videotape of dad playing the piano was running. I was told it had been filmed by one of my nephews in 1991 or thereabouts. I watched it, fascinated. He played smoothly and with confidence, his timing much better than it had been for the past decade. He was bald, and his hair was mostly white. He looked younger than he had in recent years, but not dramatically so. He was already old then, though certainly not decrepit. By 1991, he had already lost both parents and had had triple bypass surgery on his heart. I did the math. He would have turned 67 that year. I’m now 66.
I never remember him expressing any uncertainty about entering older adulthood. He certainly didn’t have any more preparation for this phase of life than I have had. He just went ahead and did the best he could. The shifting sands on which we older boomers now find ourselves walking shifted just as much beneath our parents’ feet as they do beneath ours. Yet our parents managed to stay upright and keep moving forward. They kept on teaching us and helping us, regardless of whatever uncertainties they may have been harboring. I find that consoling.