Grey nomads are everywhere.
Since COVID there seems to be more and more of them. These lucky people have either downsized, or sold the family home, bought the luxury caravan and 4WD and are now living the dream. Each day they wake up and wonder ‘where to next?’
I am sure it’s not everyone’s goal, but in Australian popular culture it’s right up there as a high ranking middle class aspiration. If you prefer to stay put, then creating the home of your dreams may be the ‘next step’ in this life we live. If you have paid off house no 1, 2 or 3 then house no 4 will be THE ONE!
Triple oversized garage, in house elevator, and all of the other creature comforts that you are now entitled to and will need for your aging frame and increasing array of toys.
Aspirational living has infected all of us – Christians or not – and the real challenge is that its not all bad. If it were we’d still be living in a 2 bedroom flat in Glendalough and driving a Datsun 1600… (I loved that car…)
Innately I feel a drift towards this kind of life. I have been conditioned this way for so long that it feels like just the next step in a 21st C middle class life. And as much as I want to live differently I know I am hopelessly compromised. I’m infected with the ‘affluenza’ virus just like everyone else. And this stage of life is its chance to really go wild.
So then, what does it look like to ‘finish well’ – to enter the final quarter in front?
If the ‘final quarter’ kicks in around 70ish then I sense it means entering those years with a joyful, gracious and generous spirit. It means being someone who laughs easily and often as well as someone who is able to nestle in with a coffee and have a long conversation – even a hard conversation.
In those years I want to be both knowledgeable and teachable, to be able to both offer wisdom and glean insight from the many who will be younger than me. To stop learning or being curious would be a backward step.
Part of being able to do that is ‘positioning’ so that I am still in conversation with people younger than me and people who see the world different to me. A serious down side of aging that I have seen in so many, is a rigidity of thinking and a sharpness of tone in those conversations that are challenging or disturbing.
I hope I am still able to listen to someone with a different perspective and inquire ‘why they think they way they do’ rather than simply feeling the need to set them straight or to distance myself from them. That will allow conversation and learning rather than a silent cuff behind the ear that says ‘get back in line’.
I love those older people who are still able to hear me share ‘dangerous thoughts’ and not flip a circuit breaker. I feel free to think experimentally and to explore ideas that might scare other people or have them question my sincerity of faith. I also love those older people for whom the reality & conviction of their faith is still as potent today as it was in the early days – all the ‘joy of the Lord’ but without the sharp edges of early faith that tends to damage those who come near. I want that too.
I’d really like to travel, explore some new vocational options, have grandkids, enjoy great food and coffee, live out my days by the ocean… I think these are good things too. I sense the struggle in this phase will be between the lure of indulgence – the pursuit of which can form a malignant self centredness and continuing to be formed in Christlikeness by whatever our world throws at us.
I have some fresh ideas as to the shape I’d like my/our lives to take in the next 20 years and if it does head in the direction I hope then I sense we will have an opportunity to be generous with our time and our learning in the various communities we are part of. But I say that tentatively because, as we are currently learning, the responsibility of caring for aging parents is now on us and our own hopes and dreams may just need to find a way to grow up around this priority – or not at all.
Or not at all.
As Danelle and I spoke of what the next 10 years holds, I had some clear vocational shifts I wanted to make. She spoke of seeing a period of caring for the oldies as a top priority. Honestly – this hadn’t registered on the ‘to do list’ for me at all. It wasn’t in my line of sight. But recently dad had a stroke – a mild one as it turns out and because mum has increasing dementia we have had to do more caring for them. A holiday was cancelled and the long service leave we have anticipated for a few years now is looking iffy.
But I love how Danelle framed this last month; as a ‘beautiful inconvenience’. As it began I realised that we this was one of those opportunities to become the people we want to be – or to become ‘those other people’. Gnarly, frustrated and tetchy because life hasn’t dealt us the hand we wanted.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope to hitch up the caravan on April 1st and hit the road for a really good 6 month break. But – maybe we won’t and if that happens then maybe how we deal with the ‘not going’ will be more formative and significant for our ‘third quarter’ than any grey nomading ever could be.
I’m trying to read a book at the moment that I am keen to absorb, but also finding very hard going. It’s called Come of Age by Stephen Jenkinson and it focuses on the much neglected subject of ‘eldering’ and the need for ‘elders’ in our society. I have enjoyed parts of it and found other parts convoluted and incomprehensible. But I like his thesis – that we need elders in this time who will not just be ‘older’ but who will be wise, accessible, grace filled and who will make it their business to give of themselves to those they are in community with.
I would like to be one of those people when I am 70 and my hope is to navigate the seductions of all this stage of life has to offer to actually become that person – and not one of ‘those people’.
There may be more to write on this, but that is all I have at this stage…