It Feels Like my Third Act
I was terrified when I hit fifty, being pretty certain the rest of my life would be shorter than what I had already lived. In my first act, I had received accolades for several impressive accomplishments that I believed would no longer be considered extraordinary but rather expected of someone over fifty. However, later that year I spent a delightful afternoon with a dear friend who was just a year older than me, comparing our notes on aging. Our conversation became a celebration of the learning that took place during the difficult, even tragic, events of our lives.
When my husband died suddenly at age fifty-three, I was set adrift and my new-found wisdom and reliance on past experiences seemed to vanish overnight. “How was I to continue living without the love of my life?” Grief is a painful process for anyone and I felt it all. While still processing and grieving, I began to give thought to creating a new vision for my future without him. As a child and into adulthood, I longed to be a Lutheran pastor. However, my commitment to my husband (who didn’t see himself as the spouse of a pastor) and sensitivity to my parents’ feelings (who were convinced women should not be pastors), led me to put my dream aside for more than thirty years.
My third act began when I retired from my career in social work administration and entered the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Everything in my life was different. I left my family, my support system, a team of colleagues I loved, my home, and everything that had provided me with security as I was dealing with life as a widow. I was fifty-eight years old, living in a third-floor walk-up in the third largest city in the United States and was learning Greek and Hebrew for the first time in my life. Nearly all of my classmates were at least thirty years younger than me and our professors had the same expectations for me as they did for my young friends. I viewed the entire experience as an adventure, filled with opportunities for learning, developing new perspectives, and gaining unique experiences amidst a diverse community.
I loved my first and second acts. I loved my husband and family. I loved my work and my team. I didn’t love the struggles, the figuring out how relationships work, how to be a mom and care for a family, how to support others in their difficult times, and trying to file it all away for future use. I don’t miss the frustration of failing, falling and getting up again.
I love my third act. I serve a congregation in central Iowa, filled with people I love and respect and from whom I am learning. So often, when writing a sermon, teaching a class of teenagers, or visiting someone who is dying, I find myself being so grateful for every experience I’ve ever had, as they not only made me who I am, but are so helpful in understanding and caring for others. Okay, I still make mistakes, but I recover so much faster than I did in my youth.
There is something very freeing and exhilarating about facing each new day with sixty-eight years of life-long learning experience.