Medium 9781576754566

Something to Live For

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Drawing on ancient and contemporary wisdom, as well as modern research, Richard Leider and David Shapiro provide insightful ways of thinking and being that help us find meaning and purpose in the second half of life. This deeply reflective book uses a safari, (referencing a trip the authors took to Africa in 2006) as a metaphor to show how the second half of life can be a journey of discovery.

In what may be their most personal book to date, Leider and Shapiro share dozens of moving stories, from both their own experiences and those of their safari companions, that offer sometimes surprising examples of lives well-lived, lives that exemplify the qualities of authenticity and wholeheartedness that they believe are essential to finding meaning and purpose in the second half of life. There are many pathways to putting our whole selves into life, especially during the second half, and in Something to Live For, Leider and Shapiro explore many routes to vital aging.

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6 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Hunting the Invisible Game

ePub

How are we to see life? Is it an existence of meaningless movement from one moment to the next? Or is there a larger purpose in life, something to live for?

When we’re young, we think that when we’re all grown up, we’ll have all the answers. We’ll know what we want to do, how we want to do it, and with whom we want to do it.

But when we’re older, we realize it doesn’t work that way. The questions don’t go away, and the answers don’t magically appear. Just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean we’re finished growing.

Throughout our lives, we continue to ask these eternal questions: “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “What am I living for?” And while we make these inquiries on and off from cradle to grave, they somehow become more pressing, more urgent, and certainly more poignant in the second half of our lives.

In the first half of life, the questions are framed by basic economic realities. Eventually, though, we reach a point—usually around midlife—where the answers are no longer obvious. Somewhat freed from the practical (although usually not the emotional) responsibilities of providing for our basic needs, we find ourselves having to come up with our own answers.

 

Chapter 2: How to Die Happy

ePub

27

Believe that each new day that dawns will be the last for you: Then each unexpected hour shall come to you as a delightful gift.

Horace

Our group of 14 has risen at dawn in the Nou Forest, our tents scattered through a thickly wooded campsite 7500 feet high in the hills above the Rift Valley in northern Tanzania. We have taken a long and invigorating hike through the forest and have spied numerous exotic birds and animals and have even, for a while, tracked an elephant through the surrounding hills and valleys. We have been guided by a trio of men from the local Iraqw tribe, an agrarian people whose tidy farms, nestled on the steep hillsides all around us, we have admired yesterday on our journey here. These men, in their thirties and forties, while not yet official elders in their communities, have begun to assume greater authority among their people. Certainly, the competence and confidence with which they guide us speaks volumes about their readiness to take on full leadership roles.

 

Chapter 3: Living a Life to Die for

ePub

49

We’ve all heard the term “elephant in the room” used to refer to an obvious, but usually unspoken, issue that confronts us individually or as a group. When Dave teaches a philosophy class, the “elephant in the room” is always (especially later in the quarter) that the students haven’t done the reading. Unless this core issue is dealt with, the class can’t really proceed effectively. But even though it is an “elephant in the room,” Dave often is inclined to ignore it. Of course, this never works. The “elephant in the room” always has to be attended to; like a real elephant, it can’t be ignored except at great peril to anyone nearby.

The “elephant in the room” for many of us in the second half of life is that retirement—as conceived of traditionally—just isn’t appealing, or to an increasing number of people, even possible. We want to be useful, contributing, connected members of our community. We want to make a difference in the world and we might need to continue to make a living to support our second-half needs. The question we can’t escape, therefore, is how to do that.

 

Chapter 4: Why Purpose is Good Medicine

ePub

77

One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

Viktor Frankl

On a walking safari in Africa, you walk on well-worn century-old trails, through savannahs and fields of tall grass, across fast-moving streams on slippery fallen logs, and over tree-covered plains teeming with wildlife of all sizes. And that’s what we’ve been doing all morning.

Our group has covered half a dozen miles since breakfast in a variety of terrains. We have seen thousands of birds and animals of all sizes. We have experienced mist and rain and now, around noon, sun that beats down fiercely from overhead. In short, it has been a perfect day for a hike and we are all, though tiring, totally into it and completely up for more of the same this afternoon.

But just as we begin to set a course through the low acacia trees that mark our path to our afternoon’s destination, Daudi points out a sight that changes our plans for the day.

 

Chapter 5: Connecting with others

ePub

103

How long the road is. But for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes by.

Dag Hammarskjöld

In a grassy clearing beneath the shadows of massive rock formations, we’re gathered together to form a circle, all 14 of us, middle-aged and older men on this “inventure” safari through northern Tanzania. It is the second-to-last night of our two weeks together and we have begun to reflect on what it will be like to return to “civilization” and our “real lives.”

Richard reminds us that “re-entry” can be a challenge; people who have not been on a trip like this may find stories about and accounts of our experience boring, off-putting, or simply meaningless. If we arrive face-to-face with loved ones, co-workers, and family and begin regaling them with tales of our African adventure, they may recoil, shut down, or otherwise ignore us.

So the key advice we are given is to practice “your story, my story.” Let others tell you their stories before telling yours. Rather than inundating our audience with a deluge of details from our trip, we are cautioned to create a two-way flow of stories that allows us to drink in the experiences of those who haven’t shared ours.

 

Chapter 6: Putting Your Whole Self in

ePub

121

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.

Helen Keller

We have been walking across the stubbly grassland along the edge of the Serengeti for about two hours. Our group of about a dozen, led by a Dorobo hunter-gatherer named Toroye, has seen an amazing array of wildlife: herds of gazelle and impala, chattering monkeys who skirt around the edges of sight, pointing and taunting, nonchalant zebra munching passively in the distance. But at the moment, we are transfixed by a much less impressive animal. Toroye has pointed out to us a totally nondescript brown bird sitting on a fallen log about 20 yards away. It sings its characteristic song, “Weet-terr, weet-terr,” and we realize that it is the storied honey-guide, the Indicator Bird, that shows the hunter-gatherers where to find hives and honeycombs, a staple of their diet.

Daudi cautions us to be quiet as we watch and listen to the bird. “He is singing to us; there will be a honeycomb in that log.”

 

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