A "senior boom" is happening in American life, and it's getting bigger by the day. Until very recently, most of the attention paid to this phenomenon has focused on retirement options, pension plans, health care challenges, medical ethics, and research on the biology of aging and the prolongation of life. Surveying recent books, films, and spoken-word audios about later life, we have noticed a number of hopeful signs that signal a broadening and deepening of the way we see the senior years. The added element is an interest in their spiritual dimensions. Here's a sampling of these new views of aging. (Click on the link to read the full review.)
Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old by Ken Dychtwald (Tarcher/Putnam, 1999)
Here is a wakeup call intended to offer preventative solutions to the age-related questions we face as individuals and as a society. "How we decide to behave as elders will," writes Dychtwald, "in all likelihood, become the most important challenge we will face in our lives."
Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher (Riverhead, 1999)
This informative and salutary work is designed to help forge ties between the baby boom generation and their parents, who are now residing in the country of old age.
The Force of Character and the Lasting Life by James Hillman (Random House, 1999)
This imaginative, compelling, and always thought-provoking volume turns conventional ideas about aging upside down. In three bold sections, the best-selling author of The Soul's Code shows how our characters are enriched, deepened, and made meaningful by long life.
From Age-ing to Sage-ing by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald Miller (Warner, 1997)
The Jewish elder who coined the term "spiritual eldering" presents his thoughts on the last stage of life. This is a time to for men and women to "contemplate their life journey, harvest the wisdom of their years, and transmit a legacy to future generations."
Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World by Jane Yolen, editor (Penguin Books, 1999)
The editor has gathered a fascinating batch of stories from different cultures about "elders who wear their years well." The tales are divided into four sections: wisdom, trickery, adventure, and a little bit of love.
On Women Turning 70: Honoring the Voices of Wisdom by Cathleen Rountree (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999)
Sixteen extraordinary women tell their stories and share their feelings on turning 70.
Passion for Life: Lifelong Psychological and Spiritual Growth by Anne Brennan and Janice Brewi (Continuum, 1999)
With the doubling of life expectancy since the beginning of the twentieth century, men and woman are challenged to become "architects of their own aging." The second half of life has become an arena for continued growth and development, i.e. soul-making.
Spiritual Passages: Embracing Life's Sacred Journey by Drew Leder (Tarcher/Putnam, 1997)
The author taps into all the world's religions for insights into qualities which can be unfurled by elders. He presents a substantive and sacred model for aging that celebrates self-exploration, change, service, suffering, transformation, and facing death.
A Time to Live: Seven Steps of Creative Aging by Robert Raines (Plume, 1998)
The former director of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center has written a bright and buoyant volume about the art of creative aging. He masterfully sets anecdotes from his own life alongside poignant illustrative material from contemporary novels, films, and political events.
Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Directions for the Second Half of Life by Margaret Guenther (Cowley, 1995)
The author uses St. Anne as a model and wisdom figure for later life when ambiguity, service of others, and wonder are given free play.
Understanding Men's Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men's Lives by Gail Sheehy (Ballantine, 1999)
The bestselling author presents a rounded portrait of the different stages of "second adulthood" for men including "the fearless fifties" and "the influential sixties."
I'm Not Rappaport (MCA/Universal, 1996)
This feisty drama revolves around an 81-year-old Jewish radical who is a modern-day Don Quixote fighting injustice. He and his best friend have to stand up for themselves in a society that seems determined to treat elders as if they were invisible.
Men With Guns (Columbia TriStar, 1998)
A common task in old age is to secure one's legacy. A wealthy physician in an unnamed Latin American country who is nearing retirement decides to visit the medical students he trained to serve poor villagers in the countryside. His quest opens and softens his heart.
Nobody's Fool (Paramount, 1995)
This movie shows that the last stage of life can be one of personal renewal. A crusty and cantankerous handyman in a small town discovers that it is never too late to stir the ashes and light up your life with the glow that comes from love of family and friends.
The Shell Seekers (Republic Pictures, 1994)
A 63-year-old Englishwoman suffers a heart attack and is compelled to review her life and her view of happiness.
The Straight Story (Walt Disney Home Video, 1999)
Alvin Straight is a stubborn and highly principled 73-year-old Iowan who sets out on his John Deere lawnmower to visit his estranged brother who has suffered a heart attack in Wisconsin. His deep yearning for reconciliation gives him the energy and strength he needs to fulfill his mission.
Strangers in Good Company (Touchstone, 1991)
A group of long-lived women take shelter in an abandoned farmhouse when their tour bus breaks down. While they wait for other transportation, they share the stories of their lives with each other.
Waking Ned Devine (Fox, 1999)
In this comedy set in a small village in Ireland, two of the town's elders creatively expand the possibilities for community life.
Conscious Aging: A Creative and Spiritual Journey by Various Speakers (Sounds True, 1992)
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Marion Woodman, Maggie Kuhn, Ram Dass, and Bernie Siegel present their ideas on elders as bearers of wisdom, healing, creativity, and vision. This audio program was taped during a conference at the Omega Institute.
The Second Half of Life: The Blossoming of Your Creative Self by Angeles Arrien (Sounds True, 1998)
This teacher and cultural anthropologist explores the three major themes of elderhood: generativity, intimacy, and creativity. This six-cassette package is filled with soul-stirring stories and spiritual practices from indigenous peoples and Greek mythology.