When I turned 60 at the end of last year, I realized that I was embarking on the “last third” of my life, what I consider to be the years from age 60 to age 90. I knew I would be semi-retiring around my mid-60s, which would give me more time to do anything I wanted, but what? I thought of having more time to write, to finish my books that sit half completed and to start new ones, or to perhaps start a new career that I could do part-time such as teaching fiber crafts, or to paint and perhaps make a small income from that on the side. But what I want most of all, as I age, is to continue to be useful, to make a difference, and to leave at least a small portion of the world a bit better when I depart this life.
I am on the cusp of joining a church, something I haven’t done for many years. The progressive spiritual community I mentioned recently provides me with a satisfying connection to like-spirited people, but it also offers the opportunity to serve others, to be useful in ways that not only help people, but will encourage my own growth as well. This church is currently considering its future and its vision, and I want to be part of that. It’s not necessary to be a member to serve others, but for me joining a church is like getting married; it’s not necessary to get married to commit to another and build a life together, but making one’s commitment a public statement with promises and vows can be a satisfying and solidifying experience.
Of course, it’s also not at all necessary to be a part of a church or spiritual community to connect with others and serve one’s community, but I’ve always been attracted to the ready-made framework for doing good that churches can provide. It’s an easy place to “plug in” to “give back,” and I’ll be able to do that in varying capacities within a supportive group over the coming years. The caveat here, however, is that the group is “like-spirited” — a less progressive church outlook, a place that values a set of beliefs more than people, would not be a comfortable place for me.
So I don’t know in what ways I will be useful as time goes on; perhaps I actually will be useful in writing, teaching a craft or painting. Perhaps it will be something that at this point has never occurred to me. Perhaps I will be useful in only a succession of small ways over many years. But useful I will be, even when it eventually means the best I can do will be to encourage others, even with just a smile. And that will be a satisfying last third of my life.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa