The Third Chapter

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Photo:  S.F. Dennstedt

I’ve just finished reading the book The Third Chapter:  Passion, Risk, Adventure in the 25 years after 50, by Sara Lawrence-Lighfoot (Sarah Crichton Books copyright 2009).  A short little tome (less than a day to read), but it has some value, especially if you’re in the targeted age group (or want a sneak peak into your possible future).  I am, admittedly, a literary snob, so I recommend this book with some reservations:  it is full of psychobabble, the scope of the interviews is way too small and the segment of the population interviewed is too narrow—having said that, I still think it is a worthwhile read (especially for the uninitiated).

It talks about the transitions and transformations experienced during this short existence we call [our] life, and why they shouldn’t be feared, but rather embraced and celebrated.  Life is not meant to be static, it is designed (by who or what) to be ever-evolving.  The difficulty arises when trying to accommodate these natural occurring transitions in the structures of our various societies, and in the context of our interpersonal relationships—society (as a whole) and our family and friends (in particular) typically view these natural transitions as a threat (change is therefore bad, and the status quo is good).  Society has always been fairly simple for me:  fuck ‘um.  Family and friends, much more problematic—few people enjoy inflicting pain and hurt feelings intentionally (in this I am no different from most).

I have never mastered the art of passing through these life altering transitions in the context of a relationship—the relationship has always been sacrificed for the ultimate survival of the self.  Selfish (perhaps), but survival never “feels” selfish—it always feels essential.  These transitions are seldom voluntary; often as not they are preceded by major life events (often traumatic) like:  death, divorce, war, illness, job loss and the like.  They are difficult to deal with (and some don’t survive the ordeal), but they are a natural part of the aging process. They are  times for introspection, reflection and course correction.  Surviving a transition is often (most times) liberating in the extreme.

Contrary to our youth-oriented society and media biased propaganda, life does not end at age 50, 60 or 70.  In fact, some of our most satisfying and productive years occur after the age of 50.  We’ve hopefully gained a modicum of maturity, wisdom and life experience by that time—retirement does not automatically signal inactivity, alienation or mental and physical decline.  It can be (and should be) a time of rebirth, new directions and adventure. It is your life after all, so live it to the fullest extent that you can.  Enjoy your hard-won freedom, and soar like the bird (or butterfly) you were meant to be.  I love the metaphor of the butterfly:  shucking the constraints of the cocoon (societal expectations, the good—or not so good—intentions of family & friends and the constant barrage upon our psyche), we can finally spread our wings and fly.

It is simple, but it isn’t easy—it’s not one bit easy.  It is the hardest work that you will ever do.  But the reward will be (or can be) way beyond your expectation.  The transitions and transformations will come, whether you want them to or not, but it’s up to you how you handle them.  You might want to give The Third Chapter a quick read, especially if you’ve never engaged in this kind of inner-work before.  I will leave you with this paraphrased quote from one of my longtime heroes, Albert Einstein, when asked about the existence of God:

“The empirical evidence would certainly suggest the possibility.”

I don’t believe in a personal god as espoused by the Christian, Jewish or Muslim faiths, but I do believe in a higher order of things, a higher intelligence, a higher (or more evolved) authority.  Modern science tells us that energy and intelligence are irreducible, and that all manifest things are informed with these two aspects of existence.  Is there life after death? I don’t have the answer to that question—but I do know that my final transition and transformation from this existence will surely come about, as it must.  My energy and intelligence will transcend this earthly body in one form or another—whether I will simply return to the cosmic soup, or retain a form of individuality is the question I can’t answer. And that’s as it should be.


Stephen F. Dennstedt

Reporting from El Mochito, Honduras . . .


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