Reminiscent of Gail Sheehyís New Passages, Abigail Trafford notes that good health has created a new life phase that she dubs "second adolescence." Defined as roughly those years between 55 and 75, itís a time of introspection and rejuvenation. Since my fifty-fifth birthday is tomorrow, I sure hope so.
I picked up My Time with unrealistic expectations. I wanted to read that companies so value my experience that they are paying premiums to lure me back. I wanted Trafford to tell me that folic acid and progesterone cream will keep me looking like I did at thirty after I lost all that weight. I hoped to hear that smoking and drinking and eating too much would increase longevity. I longed for her to tell me that sixty-five is as sexy as twenty-five. Would my second adolescence offer me the same promise as my first? My Time offers no such Pablum. For those of us hanging on by our thickening fingernails, the news is as grim as ever. Baby boomers will eventually fade away like all the generations before us.
However, Trafford does offer evidence that the transition from middle age to full-fledged status of senior citizen can be happy and fulfilling. She talks about jolts -- those moments when we realize that change is nigh. For her, it was when, at age fifty, she realized that her chances for high-powered promotions were limited. The birth of her first grandchild a couple years later was another, the collapse of her marriage still another.
Despite these precursors, a precipitous event often marks the move into our second adolescence. Losing a job we intended to keep for a while longer, for example, or a health crisis that changes our thinking about the future. Many folks use this opportunity to make a break with the past. A teacher retires and never again sets foot in the school where she labored for so many years. This is a phenomenon most of us experience at one time or another -- graduation when seen as commencement instead of the end, truly letting go of one thing in order to embrace another.
Trafford describes how some folks focus on transforming grief into a sensual appreciation of life. Widows find that although they loved their spouses, their new lives can be rich and satisfying, too. People with terrible diseases find life all the more precious. Trafford bills second adolescence as a time to dream new dreams. After you run and win the race you trained for all your life, what comes next? Write a book? Build a house? Start a new business? What do you want to be when you REALLY grow up?
After retirement, new jobs or avocations keep seniors busy and challenged. For some, there is an urge to give back to society and their families for support and sacrifices made in their behalf -- Jimmy Carterís mother volunteering for the Peace Corps, for example. Others concentrate on expanding their minds -- going back to school or taking a trip around the world. Still others focus on leaving a legacy, something that reminds the world of their contributions.
Finally, as vigor extends beyond middle years, second adolescence brings new opportunities to refresh friendships, explore our sexual selves and redefine family relationships. Many of us embrace spirituality, evaluating our beliefs and reestablishing our understandings of religion and philosophy.
Trafford presents these behaviors through a series of interviews and anecdotes. Some are quite touching and illustrative of the point sheís making, like the story about five women who grew up together and then in their young adult years, scattered across the country only to find each other again when they were in their late fifties. Others seem a bit contrived, like the tale of the heartbroken man who retreats to a life of solitude after his third wife leaves him.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. Certainly, Iím Traffordís primary audience, and I did get a kick out of some of her anecdotes. Her style is light and charming. I appreciated her sparse use of language. Her subjects are real and engaging. I even forgave her for not providing me with a definitive roadmap to health and happiness in my senior years. However, Iím not sure if there is hard data to support her observations. I longed for a tabulation of facts, some footnotes or maybe an index or two. Where are the pretty graphs? Perhaps the book is just a bit too touchy-feely for a hardnosed type-A like me. Billed as a "self-help" book, My Time probably wonít call me to rush to thumb through it when I need help. Even so, itís a quick and entertaining read if you are going to be fifty-five any time soon.