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June 4, 2015
Column #1,762
An Agenda for the Encore Generation
By Mike McManus

Each day tens of thousands of Baby Boomers enter their 60s and 70s. The Wall Street Journal published a thoughtful story: “Scientists are pushing to extend our lives. But are we ready to fill all those added days?” Good question. What might be done to help enrich our lives and not just add days to them? Men turning 65 today can look forward to an average of 17.7 more years, and women, 20.3 years.

My wife and I married in 1965, when life expectancies were 5 years shorter.

However, very little thought has gone into how these additional years might be fruitfully used. Marc Freedman, who wrote the WSJ article suggests we should come up with a new name for this new chapter of life. I propose it be called the Encore Generation, to focus our attention on how we use our remaining years and talents in a special way to serve others.

For years we’ve labored to raise our kids and build careers. Now what? Half of us would like to continue working, at least part time. But this may be a time for new careers. Perhaps it is time for a sabbatical, a long trip away from responsibilities to think about next steps.

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills has been particularly creative in helping her members consider this issue. She says the stages of a life are measured differently now. “For my parents the stages were childhood, adolescence, midlife (when the task was building of career and family), and then old age. Now there is a new stage between midlife and old age.” Social scientist Steven Cohen observed, “Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are the first generation in human history…to reasonably anticipate living…into their 80s and 90s, if not beyond.”

The biblical text most relevant to her is the story in Genesis of God calling Abram and Sarai, “Leave your country, your people…and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you (Gen 12:1-2).” At the time Abram was aged 75, yet he picked up and left.

Rabbi Geller says, “He is not calling young people at the beginning of their careers, but they were called to an adventure and make their lives a blessing. The story of the Jewish people begins at that point. Their names were changed to Abraham and Sarah, to reflect God’s name. In Hebrew, H is God’s name.” (Abraham was 100, and Sarah 90 when they gave birth to Isaac.)

For the last several years 200 Temple Emanuel men and women aged 50-75 have held a series of house meetings and answered a series of questions:

“Is this a new stage of your life? What keeps you up at night? What are your concerns? What are you excited about? What gets you up in the morning? Was there a time when the Jewish community was there for you?

She says these have been very “moving conversations.” For the first time ever, men spoke about fears of growing older. However, four themes came through:

1. Spirituality. “What are the ritual moments of our lives when divinity is present?” Some talk of a “sacred conversation” they have with their children about end of life decisions. The Temple is considering a “Bar Mitzvah” like ceremony for those moving beyond midlife, but far from the end of life, with a focus on “leaving a legacy and how they might engage in “tikkun olam,” healing the world.

2. Community asks “What do I need now to have a supportive community?” Some are exploring “co-housing” in which several families sell their houses, and move together into an apartment with community dinners and laundry rooms.

3. Giving back asks each person how they can use their talents and experience to serve others.

4. Concern about ourselves and people you love. Many are taking a course called “Wise Aging” which asks “What do you have to do now to become the 85-year-old you want to be: meditation, prayer, character refinement?

If any reader knows of a Christian church helping the Encore Generation so creatively, please write me at [email protected]

Peggy Mader, a Christian friend, has used her Encore years as a hospice volunteer. She quotes a book, “Midwives of the Soul” which describes birth and death as “similar in many ways, a process of going from this life into the next.” She had found that in holding the hands of dying people, “I feel I am in the presence of God.”
 

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