What will be our legacy? Does it matter? If it does, how can we polish it up — or maybe build it from scratch if we don’t like the one we have — in these fruitful years in the last third of life?
One way is community involvement. We can be gently helpful, volunteering for existing organizations by giving time and applying skills. Or we can be pugilistically helpful. We can fight for something.
I received the email below from someone I care about who is sliding into her retirement years with a battle plan. This will be one way she will allot her freedom once she leaves her job.
I’ve always seen her as an entrepreneur who happens to be employed. Her activism, as you’ll see from her testament below, is entrepreneurial. Creative. Against the odds. Organized. Self-motivated. The difference is that she’s not making money. She’s making friends while making a difference. She’s not building a business. She’s helping build community.
Here’s the email (two actually):
I'm at the centre of a local fight to keep the vile Nestlé empire from pumping our town's groundwater. Given a permit, Nestlé will take daily the amount of water our entire village needs daily. Most of the people I'm fighting beside are in their late seventies and early eighties. They are feisty and extremely well informed and they laugh a lot. They are a front line of amazing "old people" leading this charge and succeeding.
I asked a few questions after receiving that comment. Here’s how she answered:
Why are you doing it? Blue ribbons were appearing in the town, around trees and tied to fences. I was curious. I'm doing it to stop corporate greed and change laws. It's a commitment. And sometimes I'd prefer to stay home and watch Netflix. I have a stroke-survivor husband, an energetic black lab, and a demanding job. The team needed some of my skills. When there's a cause that you agree is worth defending, and you see that there's something you can do that's not being done, it’s hard not to step up and say, “Hey, I have this skill I think you could use."
What keeps you going? You mean what keeps me meeting these folks every Wednesday night possibly spending more quality time with them than with a close relation? Future generations need this water. The community is banding behind us. The town council has declared we are not a willing host of this kind of water taking. We are succeeding in increments. And I've grown to quite love these people.
Why is it mostly older people? Maybe time. Kids grown. Mortgages paid. That said, this year, four young people joined the Wednesday night team. Our average age is now 53, I think.
What made recent recruits decide to get involved? They saw the ribbons and signs in town. They emailed us thinking we were a bigger entity. They came to the meeting and didn't run away screaming when they saw our wrinkly faces. I truly think they saw where they could pitch in — starting with explaining Dropbox as something other than a book return.
Why is this better than golfing in Arizona? Selfishly? When my two boys talk about me at my funeral, I want them to say I did something useful, that I helped somehow. Saying I was a golfer who spent winters in Arizona doesn't quite pack the same punch.
What has this activism given you? It gets me outside of my worried little self. It's made me more thoughtful and more strategic. It's helped me say “Fuck you" less often. It’s given me a role in my community. It's allowed me to get creative. I now have 50 people I can ask to my house for a party. It's made me grateful, and kinder, and more purposeful. I could go on and on.