Friday, September 10, 2010

Life 2.0: Rebooting After Age 45

Having experienced loss, we can no longer be innocent. We can now either be glum and cynical, or joyful and wise. Daniel Levinson published studies of long term career and life changes in his books Seasons of a Man’s Life and Seasons of a Woman’s Life. One of the consistent things he found was the disillusionment experienced after midlife, even by those who had achieved success by societal standards. Regardless of the degree of social success we all experience loss by that age: loss of the vision or dream amid the striving for attainment, loss of loved ones, marriages, hair, and youth among other things. A new perspective on what constitutes success and happiness is therefore required. This is even more strikingly apparent for those who did not achieve some important goals. In either case, rebooting is required in order to access Life 2.0.

To access Life 2.0, say goodbye to youthful innocence and hello to wisdom. But wisdom is not as much about ruminating as it is about finding joy in being present. I consider the ability to be fully present to be one of the seven dimensions of wisdom. This means letting go of the regret and pain about the things we have lost and embracing new possibilities. We still have the ability to dream and to realize our vision. On Labor Day this year, I had an adventure in Life 2.0.

Having a desire to hear music in an outdoor setting, I heading for the Herndon Virginia Jazz Festival. It was actually more folk-rock, blues and rock than jazz, but it served the purpose. Not a Woodstock exactly; just a Labor Day concert on the Herndon town mall: A man in a khaki kilt walks by and nobody notices. Everyone’s engaged in their own conversation and happening. During the break between sets, the CD player belts out nostalgia: Van Morrison’s My Little Brown-eyed Girl, and You Make Me So Very Happy by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

In this venue, the baby boomers still rule with their elephantine demographic. Let’s throw in some Gary Puckett for the relatively more traditional: Woman, Have You Got Cheating On Your Mind? The new set starts and the young long-haired singer songwriter plays the guitar and kazoo. His trio with keyboards and drums has a bluesy feel, with a Paul Simon-ish vocal style.

Two small boys about three or four years old are alternately dancing in front of the stage and standing looking at the performers in rapt attention. The technicians have finally turned up the guitar and drums and got the mix right. A dragonfly hovers over the head of a blond woman in a bright pink blouse; perhaps mistaking her for a flower. A beautiful young black couple is talking excitedly nearby. Now even adults are dancing on the lawn or at least bouncing around; as am I.

But more interesting than all of this was my unexpectedly finding like-minded companions for the day. I went to Herndon alone, but did not remain so. To get some shade from the sun, I sat on the side of the grass mall, near the trees, on a cement embankment that held up the fence, and began writing my observations as I listened to the music.

Nearby, other cement embankments around each large tree created more improvised benches. I noticed two attractive middle-aged women on one of these tree benches talking animatedly and sharing a bottle of wine with a man; this was actually a wine tasting, as well as a music festival. These three bench neighbors left after a while and I moved to take their place, since the shade was better under their tree. I noticed that they left a plastic shopping bag and an empty bottle, so I wasn’t clear on whether or not they would return. When they did return, the more extroverted of the two women noticed me writing and asked me if I were writing them a note.

I then became part of their conversation, and when the Bruce Springsteen tribute band came on, we all danced for most of the next two hours. What I later learned was that none of the three knew each other before today. I understood how this all worked when Joy, the extrovert, pulled another man into our orbit as we were dancing. By the time the concert ended, the five of us had bonded through that experience and agreed to all have dinner at Jack’s house. After some adventures with our GPS we finally got to Jack’s and had dinner and some wonderful conversations, while listening to his fabulous mix of songs, and watching the beautiful slides of nature and people on his large wall flat screen TV.

Our conversations focused on Life 2.0. Four of us are divorced after long marriages and have adult, or near adult children that we love. There was a strong sense that we are starting over; rebooting. Our challenge is to feel the dream, the possibilities, and the gain, rather than the loss. As one of us said “This is not the life I planned or expected.” And it seems that we all struggle with that at times. But for a while we let go, became present, embraced that day; and were therefore able to embrace each other as brothers and sisters of Life 2.0

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