I was reading Jane Fonda’s Prime Time after Christmas and something in the preface has been haunting me the past week or so. I have to share this with people who will understand. She wrote there are two concepts to viewing the life cycle and aging. The thinking behind these concepts she credits to the late professor Rudolph Arnheim of Harvard University. The concepts and his diagrams stuck in my head and I decided I would try to blog about it today.
The first concept views life as an arch. This is the common way most people view life. We are born, we hit our peak in middle age and then it’s a decline from there until death. That’s not a very appealing view. Especially, as Jane points out, we are living much longer than ever before. Of course, our culture is all about youth, that’s where the emphasis is and always has been. People want to maintain their youth, even through artificial means of cosmetic surgery. No one wants to look their age or God forbid act their act. But, aging is a part of life and it can’t be avoided. Your eyesight and hearing will deteriorate and you will be turning up the volume of the television a little more every year. Your bones are going to become more brittle, you will lose elasticity in your skin, you become a little more forgetful and so it goes. So when you think of aging from this point of view, the arch makes sense. And even though we can control some things and slow them down through diet and exercise, we are never going to get any younger, that’s a fact.
So what should we do, just give up and surrender? Hell no! The other concept of life is the staircase. We all have the ability to keep climbing as we age. Even as our bodies are aging and becoming physically weaker and slower, our minds and spirits are not. We hold, in our minds, all our life experience which just gets richer and more fuller every day. They don’t say old people are wise for nothing! Our potential to keep growing in wisdom and in spirituality still exists and it’s based on all the years that came before it.
I guess I was struck by these ideas because I am entering the age that Jane calls Act III of life. Jane divides life up into three Acts, like a play, each Act is made up of thirty years. The first two Acts are preparing us for our third Act. And how do we prepare for our third Act? Jane says to do a life review of the first two Acts. I have always been an introspective person, but I have never looked at aging from this point of view. However, I have looked forward to later years as ones where I have less responsibility to others and when my husband and I can take time to do the things we enjoy most, like traveling and taking classes. In my case, I also realized that, thanks to the internet, I can pursue writing which is something I have always loved. Just because we hit sixty, it doesn’t mean we are done doing things or accomplishing things or learning new things or living our dreams. It’s all based on your outlook for your future and what you have learned from your past.
We don’t have to sit idly by and let old age take over us and bring us down. We can do something to maximize our health physically, so we aren’t on a fast decline. At the same time we can keep doing things to expand our knowledge, we can use our wisdom, hone our talents, pursue our passions, become more spiritual…more whole. There are no limits as to what we can do, unless we impose them on ourselves. I know one thing, I want to live life to the fullest doing the things I love to do. I am looking at life as a staircase and I am going to keep climbing it!
The play isn’t over until we take our final bow and the curtains close. I am not ready for taking bows, I have things to do. I am getting ready for Act 3 now, and I am going to make the most of it. How about you? Is your life an arch or a staircase? It’s up to you.
Excerpt of Jane’s book on this subject: Prime Time!