Do You Know Who You Really Are?

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 13 March 2016.
By John Abbate.


“Some of us grow backwards, some of us grow inwards, a few of us grow forwards,” said Dr Macnab. People change, sometimes undesirably.When we re-encounter someone after an extended absence, that change can come as a shock to us. Dr Macnab calls it “one of the facts of life,” or “Interpersonal Relations 101”–a class that is never taught.

We are very aware of the stages that a child goes through on their journey to maturity, yet we remain “bluntly ignorant” of what happens at the other end of the lifespan. In this address, Dr Macnab gives a decade-by-decade breakdown of the stages of growth beyond 60.

Stage 1: moving beyond the 50s into the 60s

In your 60s there needs to be a change in your expectations. Your relationships will change. Your goals in life will change. You will develop new anxieties to replace those of your 50s. “You might try to dress as if you’re still 25, but you don’t fool me,” said Dr Macnab. 

But being in your 60s doesn’t mean you have to join the ranks of the disgruntled and depressed. Dr Macnab has known and written about men who became more creative in their 60s. “I saw many people become more caring and kinder people, softer people than they were before,” he said.

Stage 2: the 70s

In our seventies we’re going to collide with new adversities, but we may also discover new enjoyments. Consolidate your strengths. It is a chance to get over the past and “get on a different bus, taking you to destinations where you realise that complaining continuously won’t cure your troubles.” It is a time to select the strengths that will keep you alive and growing further towards your 80s.

Stage 3: the 80s

WIthin a short period ot time the life-expectancy of human beings in our culture has “boomed ahead” to 80 and 85. “It is a time of resilience, and a time of caring, because soon it’s going to be over. It is a time to maintain some meaning in your life and some purpose.” It is also a time when you might come to believe that your existence is useless; or you can affirm the “validity of the line between being and not being.”

Stage 4: the 90s

In this phase, people are hanging on. Dr Macnab uses the metaphor of a golden rope. Hanging on is very important. “It is the age of contentment and the age of decline. It is the age of fulfilment, and the age of the final things.” “When you reach 90, nothing will be gained by regretting what you could have been.”

Stage 5: 95-105

Dr Macnab calls this is a time of “pioneering growth,” because so few people get there. It is “a time to be…really old.” Improvements in lifestyle and medicine now mean that it is not uncommon for people at this stage of life to remain active and mentally sharp. “There are people over 100 years of age who are dancing twice a week. They can recite Shakespeare’s 30th sonnet. They are pleased to be alive in these last years.”

Above all, this fifth phase of life is about your presence. “Be a good presence,” said Dr Macnab.

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