An article in the Wall Street Journal this week prompted me to think again about why we are taking a gap year at age 62. Today is my birthday so I can accurately say 62 for both of us. In The Case for a Midlife ‘Gap’ Year, the reporter lays out several reasons why aging Baby Boomers might take such a break.
The main reason, according to Anne Tergesen, is to “relax, re-energize and reflect upon what they want to do next.” Then she enumerates possible activities, while also noting that those taking a Gap Year often move, downsize and leave their old lives behind:
- Go back to school
- Apply for a fellowship
- Enroll in a workshop to “find a new direction”
- Write a book
- Do very little
It’s an accurate list and I’m happy to report that Sam and I can check off at least five of the options.
We have “gone back to school” by enrolling in serious French lessons at the l’Alliance Française in Paris. We are traveling. We plan to volunteer at a project in Uganda in March 2014. Sam has signed up to volunteer for a gubernatorial race in the state of Maine. We plan to turn this blog into a couple of short eBooks. Maybe a longer book will come out of that. It’s too soon to tell.
The “do very little” option is a puzzling one. If she means stepping off the daily rat race to find a new daily rhythm, then we can check that one off too. But as anyone who has changed course will tell you, the days quickly fill up with new To Do lists and commitments. It never feels exactly like you are doing “very little.” As Aristotle put it, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” If there is an empty space something will rush in to fill it.
Of course, the greatest desire is to do something that is not only different but that will make a difference. My 82-year-old father sent me an email whose subject line is simply “62.” He writes: “Sounds like a lot. It is really only the beginning.” Thanks, Dad. That is a lovely message and good to hear from you.
Even though we are only halfway through our Gap Year I do feel like this is a new beginning. With Sam stepping away from the daily commitment of his medical practice and with our semi-move to the coast of Maine, the pace and quality of our life has noticeably changed.
At the same time, I am treasuring the ordinariness of many of our days. I know it is a gift that both of us are in good health thus far. We have several special friends who are not. And a young cousin of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly several weeks ago, a slap-in-the-face reminder that life is uncertain and cruel.
As for Paris, these past four weeks have unspooled far too quickly. I have savored the reality of getting a little work done, reading clients’ book manuscripts at a café. Paris has been exhilarating, challenging, inspirational, delightfully quotidian, sometimes maddening, exhausting and always so lovely.
I will never tire of the cold, gray days. Yes, they are beautiful. As a semi-permanent resident (I will never be a real Parisian), I now fully appreciate the rare sunlight that breaks through the clouds and bathes the river, the buildings and the narrow streets in a magical glow.