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Third Act, Encore Years or Just Life?

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Jane Fonda says we're in our third act. AARP writes about our encore years.

I'm not having any of it.

I think we're just aging and doing what we always did: reinventing ourselves to meet life where we find it. We stood in college quads in 1967 yelling, "Hell, no, we won't go," and listened in fascination as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (who evolved into Ram Dass) told us to "turn on, tune in, drop out." We boomers on the cusp have always heard the siren song.

Come with me and dropout, Leary said. Develop self-reliance and make a commitment to mobility, choice and change. Let go of the conscious and subconscious, he urged us. Do what you really want to do. Get in touch with yourself.

Whether we understood Leary or not, we manifested his mantra in our lives. We became a mobile society, we made choices that were groundbreaking and we changed things.

Now we're looking down the road, and the inescapable end is in sight. We talk about bucket lists with a hint of panic in our voices, rush to write our memoirs for children and grandchildren before we forget it all, explore our genealogy to reinforce who we are and create elaborate scrapbooks.

Nothing wrong with that, but I hope we are consciously innovating as we take on these projects. It's necessary, because old-fashioned photo albums probably won't appeal to our grandchildren whose lives revolve around technology. The memoir won't get read (and maybe we're writing it more for ourselves after all) unless it has technological bells and whistles and those scrapbooks will need embellishments galore to warrant a second look.

My bigger concern is our preoccupation with yesterdays. Is it possible that we're engrossed with the past because what's ahead of us is too frightening? Have we lost sight of tomorrow because we think we've seen our best days? Are we afraid to try again, to start something deeply challenging just because we've hit the magic number for Medicare coverage?

Are we settling for less because it's easier to sleep until 10 and fall back on the old "we've had our turn, now it's up to them" thinking? Does our age define us, keep us out of the rigorous game of trying something completely new, something we've always wanted to do, but couldn't until now?

I know the odds are against us when we try to start from scratch at this point. I've heard "at your age?" one too many times in the past couple of years. It shocks me every time.

And then as I think about us, the on-the-cusp boomers, I'm not even sure I'm asking the right questions. More than that, maybe I've got it all completely wrong.

I'd like to think our project-based homebody/globetrotting lives are the final embrace of the Leary mantra, the last real message of the 60-plus Boomers. It's certainly possible that as we ride elephants in India, take months to cross-stitch that pillow, read books about the journey of the soul and make the perfect soufflé, that we truly are in touch with ourselves at last.

With the compelling sound and fury gone now, perhaps the peace of having lived relatively long lives has made us a kinder, gentler generation, with few regrets. And, just as I hope we are satisfied, I am eager for each of us to push ourselves relentlessly to step over the line at least a few more times in our lives.

I hope we kick up a little dust, create a little controversy, speak up when we know it would be easier to let it go, and make some noise when someone is wronged. It's the stuff of the 60s, not yet vintage, not yet done.

In the end, wherever we find ourselves, I think it has little to do with encores or third acts. I suspect it is simply us being us as we continue to age. We're meeting life where we find it. We're doing just exactly what we want to do. Keep going.