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The Second Half of Our Lives

February 19, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

The kids are out of the house. Now what?

A lot of my peers are at a crossroads in their lives. Although our children may not be completely launched (are they ever?), they are, at a minimum, out of the house during the bulk of the day. So we are left with some unstructured, unaccounted for time on our hands – a real gift.

Once the initial sense of freedom abates, the serious of question of how to maximize this opportunity remains. While it is possible to dabble here and flirt there, to spend more time with friends and take more exercise classes, the question lingers. And serious, thoughtful people don’t want to avoid it. I think that one of the most powerful messages emphasized in traditional Jewish texts is the preciousness of time and the need to make the most of it.

And yet…none of us have the drive (or the knees and back!) that we had 25 years ago. None of us have the naïve idealism. That’s not to say we don’t have dreams, hopes and visions – but rather that they are tempered by practical realities, by a deeper understanding of human nature, by a more realistic perspective on what actually works – and on what doesn’t. We are more cautious, less willing to throw ourselves blindly into a new project.

Is there a loss? Possibly. But maybe a gain as well.

Each phase of life offers new and different opportunities. It’s just not possible at 50 (or slightly older!) to see the world as it was at 25. It’s not possible – and it’s not desirable. If we don’t bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the table as we did then, hopefully we bring wisdom, experience, maturity along with creaky limbs and Lipitor.

Yet all of this still begs the question…now what?

This question just circles around and around inside our heads. We can spend hours obsessing about it, discussing it with friends, making our spouses crazy (we could actually fill a lot of time that way but it’s not so desirable!). Do we want for-profit or non-profit? Creative and artistic or more intellectual? The debate rages on.

I don’t have the solution. But I do have a possible answer. There is so much need out there. I do not think we should wait to “follow our bliss” or find our passion. We should just do something that needs to be done or something we’d like to do – from holding crack babies to opening a neighborhood coffee shop, from training Israel activists to designing our own line of clothing (the more it hides, the better). We need to just pick something and act.

It may not be perfect, nothing is (isn’t that one of the lessons we’ve learned with experience?). But, as with anything else, when you give, you care. When you invest in a project, when you take ownership of an organization, it becomes important to you.

I confess to a bias for work for the Jewish people. There are so many important institutions. There are so many pressing needs. There are so many ways to make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

But my way isn’t everyone’s way. The key is to just act now. Don’t wait to find something to care about. Give and do and you will care, deeply. And, please God, when we all share our stories after another 50 years (!), when we get together to see what we’ve done with the second half of our lives, we’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

We are taught that the Almighty leads us in the way we wish to go. We can choose to be limited by the challenges of middle age or empowered by the opportunities. And with His help, the possibilities are still endless.


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