I heard a snippet of a Oprah interview with Jane Fonda that has given me a new perspective on life.
Fonda, now 75 years old, said that she views her life as a three-act play – the first thirty years were her first act. The second thirty years were her second act. And the last thirty years are her last act.
It’s a sobering thought to consider that I am in my second act, and that the third, and last act is not that far away.
I mentioned this to my daughter, Sara, only to share the concept of life being like a three-act play.
She said, “I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
I’m not sure how I feel about it either.
One of my dearest friends will turn 79 this month. She recently went through a painful knee replacement surgery, spent weeks in rehab, then returned to the hospital because of a blood clot. She is still recovering and finding it difficult to bounce back, at least as quickly as she wants.
She’s one of the strongest, most independent, and stubborn women I know.
She refuses to slow down, and resents having a body that defies her will to keep going with the same speed and agility she enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago.
But, now, she simply can’t mentally will her body to move as smoothly and pain-free as it once did.
When I visited her in rehab she complained about being there and said she hated being surrounded by old people who should be in coffins instead of recovery. She didn’t believe she belonged in a facility with old, decrepit people.
I agreed with her. On my way to her room, I saw elderly women in cotton nightgowns with wild, uncombed gray hair, and men shuffling around in hospital gowns.
But, when I saw my friend, she was sitting up in bed, dressed and eager to get out of there. She’d been exercising her knee all day, keeping up with all her friends on her cell phone and through emails, staying current on all the news shows, and steaming mad that the Baseball Hall of Fame snubbed some of her favorite players.
When she finally got home from rehab and her second hospital stay, I visited her again, and she told how she was going to update her will and investments.
“Are you worried something is going to happen to you?” I bluntly asked.
“I’m just being realistic,” she said.
By Jane Fonda’s standard, my friend is in her third act, I reminded myself.
Like Sara, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
When we divide our lives up into three tidy little acts, it seems so brief, structured, and streamlined.
I like Fonda’s three-act play analogy because it makes me believe I can look ahead and create my story arc. I hate her analogy because I know life is never a nice linear path that I can control.
So as I listen to my friend talk about her end-of-life will, her investments, and who will get what when she dies, I remind myself that I’m looking at a woman whose spirit is more alive than most twenty-somethings. Her determination, love of life, excitement about the upcoming baseball season, and her long list of things to do will help her heal. Even if her legs won’t cooperate completely, she will make them move – one way or another. If I know anything about her after all our years of friendship, it is that she will put one foot in front of the other every day and prove that despite the setbacks, detours, and upsets, she is still in control of her life.
She reminds me that it doesn’t matter which act of our three-act play we are living, and regardless what happens to us, we can still control how we respond to what happens.
We can be despondent and give up when things don’t unfold the way we want or we can look at our reality, be honest about what is happening, and re-chart our course to maximize our happiness.
My friend teaches me to choose door number two and to forget about the depressing three-act play and just live the life that awaits me every day. She teaches me that our future is always awaiting our imprint, and that it responds to and shapes around our acts of courage, and our efforts to steer ourselves in new directions. And, while we can’t control some of the things that happen to us, we can control what we do about it.
I think that’s the philosophy I’ll hang on to even though I am in the last part of my second act.