To those of us in our last third of life, we’ve both been here before and we’ve never seen times like these.

You may think I’m referring to the deep political polarization surrounding the impending election, or the normal-changing worldwide pandemic, or perhaps the global anti-racism protests, or possibly the avalanching existential threat of climate change, or maybe even shootings by armed white vigilantes.

Yes, I’m referring to all that and more, but no, that’s not what I’m writing about. We’ve never been whatever age each of us is now, whether during crucial elections, or protests, or nuclear threats or school desegregation. This is the first time for any of us at this age. We’ve not before been the person we are becoming now.

Aging presents us with something new even as we are just becoming familiar with something new.

So who are we going to be this time? What will be important to us this time? What role models will we become this time? Will we, as Maria Popova writes, “go on being the smaller version of ourselves we have grown accustomed to being, out of the un-faced fear?”

That smaller version of ourselves keeps us from aging with intention, from embracing our aging and dying and, sometimes, from feeling empathy.

As we age through our last third, it is important that we make this a better world, and it is important that we grow in the grace of awakening — to become empathic human “beings,” not just human “doings.”

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay recently commented that “everyone knows we are in the midst of history. … We are living history now. This time will be long remembered. This time will be long studied. And the question is, what lessons are we learning now that we can take into the future?” 

Even as we are figuring out, as we age, who we are and what is really important, we are given this tremendous opportunity to make a difference. Making a difference in our world and in ourselves are two sides of the same coin. It will not happen out of blind habit. It takes conscious work with intention and attention. 

The inbred cynicism of ageism demands our honest attention.

Conscious aging helps us step toward becoming more admirable role models, toward living a legacy, not just leaving a legacy, and toward facing those un-faced fears. This is one way we will stake out who we are going to be this time and one way we will be building the new world that is in creation.

The role of the artist, James Baldwin said, “is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are.” 

As older people, doesn’t that make us all artists?

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