When it comes to the autumn of a person’s life, expectations—those of the person and of her surrounding culture—can make this a difficult time. For example, the expectation in middle-class America has been that during the autumn of your life, your career has matured, your children have grown into healthy and happy adulthood, you’ve built up some retirement to live on when “winter” comes, and you have some savings to spend on extra leisure, travel, and entertainment. It’s become fashionable among some of the more affluent young adults to aim for retirement even before life’s autumn, while they possess lots of time, energy, and money to enjoy all that they’ve accumulated.
Well, fewer and fewer people in the U.S.A. have that kind of autumn these days. The financial landscape is increasingly difficult for ordinary people to navigate. Thanks to the actions of Wall Street players and greedy corporations, many people who had pensions and savings no longer do. Thanks to mountains of college debt and other factors, a lot of young adults who would prefer to be living on their own are still living with their parents, because they can’t afford to do otherwise. Even people who have remained well-employed and managed their assets wisely live under the threat of a struggling economy.
Why emphasize money in a post like this one? Life is about much more than a financial situation. Yet, every day we must deal with the reality of our situation, whether it’s to encourage the young adult who can’t get a good foothold or to use up our savings to pay for an elderly parent’s medications or home health visits. The American Dream is quite brittle, but perhaps now we can begin to understand that it was a dream after all. Even those of us who struggle to pay our bills are much better off than the vast majority of this world’s population. Perhaps if we lose material advantage, we will begin to see more clearly what a life’s autumn can be about: nurturing those in need; freeing ourselves from excessive material attachments; passing along our hard-won wisdom to the next generation; taking on new endeavors in creative expression; using our experience and our strong sense of purpose to speak truth to power and not be afraid of the consequences.
- Forget about expectations. What are your hopes for your autumn years? Or, your spring or summer or winter years, depending on who you are and what you’re going through?
- What have you learned in the past twenty years that will help you live fully in the next five or ten years?
- For you, what does it mean to be mature? How would you describe what you consider to be a satisfying kind of autumn?