Fall Joe and SeoAh Moon
2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.
Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.
What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?
It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*: the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.
It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.
One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.
Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.
I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.
The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.
So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.
Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?
How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?
What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient. I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.
Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.
Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.
*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online
**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki