Lisbie Rae responded to the call for Next in Life reader submissions. Her reflections speak to how it feels to live with purpose, a subject previously covered here. Lisbie nails it when she sees her activities went beyond “I like doing this,” to “This is what I’m meant to do.” That is living with purpose. The grandmothers’ organization to which Lisbie refers is mentioned in Carl Honoré’s book Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives (2019) as an example of how people are engaging with life in their later years.

Cobbling Together a Life with Purpose 

I’ve lived a long life, and though I haven’t until now formulated my life’s purpose into a clear statement, I do have touchstones that tell me when I am on the right course.

There’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw that really appeals to me; he said,

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”

Without expressing it in words, I’ve been making choices and guiding my life with the image of the “splendid torch” in mind. For instance, I knew I’d made a good choice in becoming a teacher when I saw a child’s face light up with curiosity during a lesson. Within myself, a quiet “yes!” sounded. Multiply that “yes!” by a hundred times and a deep love of teaching emerged. Holding a torch so that I and others can see the wonders of the world, that’s a purpose I can sign on to. I’ve trusted that “yes!” voice to confirm my choices in life. More than just, “I like doing this,” the voice said, “This is what I’m meant to do.”

Edging towards retirement, I remember wondering what I would do when I wasn’t teaching. Images of longer hikes, more time to read, advocate, travel, filled the nebulous cloud called retirement that was billowing ahead. Was my useful life over? I sensed a vague unease at the thought that I might not be needed any more.

Then I went to Swaziland with a contingent of members of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. We were there to meet the African grandmothers for whom we’d been raising funds and awareness. The 500 African grandmothers present, who had lost children to AIDS and were now raising their orphaned grandchildren, shared their stories of loss, hardship, and recovery. We Canadians vowed, “We will not rest until they can rest.”

Now several years into retirement, I am living a full and rich life, with the Grandmothers Campaign a key component. Moving from Ontario to Victoria was made easier because I could join the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa and sign up for their Cycle Tour. After six years of cycle training, I am much fitter and at 76 can comfortably cover 100 km a day. But the bigger benefit is the sense of purpose and common cause shared by all the riders as we raise funds to support the work of Africa’s amazing grandmothers. 

You can read Lisbie’s entire article on purpose and learn more about her life journey here.

Ageism – The Enemy is All of Us

In a recent television clip featuring the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour to which Lisbie refers to above, the 67 women aged 61 to 85 who are collectively cycling 18,107 km over a four-week period, were referred to as grey-haired ladies. Really? If it was men undertaking the same feat would the announcer have referred to them as grey-haired gentlemen?

And that lead me to revisit an article by colleague and researcher on aging Dr. Blair Roblin. In his Winnipeg Free Press article, “In the battle against ageism, the enemy is all of us” Roblin reminds us that addressing ageism is about,

“… our collective efforts to reconstruct the image of older adults as competent, productive, social beings, or at least on recognizing seniors as being no different from the rest of us — quite simply, young people who have grown older.”

And until we address the ageism within ourselves, we cannot be open to the myriad possibilities that the second half of life offers.

For an engaging take on combatting ageism, watch Carl Honoré’s TED Talk “Why we should embrace aging as an adventure.” Honoré offers a set of simple solutions to combat ageism starting with how you talk about yourself.

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Copyright © 2020 *Stefa Katamay, All rights reserved.

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