... When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Most of the people I know who are 50 or older—that age when you start hearing from AARP—do not warm to the notion of retiring. To them, retiring means being culled from the herd and put out to pasture, being declared unproductive and therefore irrelevant.
In his seminal work on midlife values, The Sibling Society, the poet Robert Bly challenges this preconception. “Why are there so many boys and so few men?” he asks. “The primary responsibility for the initiation of youth in traditional cultures was carried by the older men and women—the ritual elders.”
Unfortunately, many older people in the United States have abdicated their role as ritual elders.
The mythologist and storyteller Michael J. Meade, a leader in the men’s movement, writes that “a culture that forgets the necessity of converting ‘olders’ into genuine elders will have leaders who can’t learn from the past and, therefore, can’t imagine a meaningful future.”
Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, asserts that more men and women are “refusing to phase out or fade away.” Instead, he writes, “they are searching for a calling in the second half of life, crafting a new phase of work that offers not only continued income but the chance to do work that means something beyond themselves.”
Freedman has created the annual Purpose Prize to celebrate such individuals. Each year five people over 60 are awarded $100,000 each for improving their communities and the world.
Jeri Reilly—a Minneapolis-based writer, editor, and friend—suggests a new term for such individuals, borrowed from the Spanish word for retirees: Jubilados, which means “the jubilant ones” or “the ones feeling or expressing great joy.” The word comes from the Latin verb jubilo, or iubilo, meaning “to sing or shout joyfully.”
Anyone can grow older, but few can claim the honorific of Jubilado, a jubilant elder. According to Reilly, Jubilados are as different from retirees as citizens are from consumers. “Jubilados are people who are freed from the ‘briars of the working-day world’ (thank you, Shakespeare),” she says. “Freed from the arbitrary pressures of the clock. Released from the need to prove ourselves and please others, to get ahead, to chase Mammon. We Jubilados have the blessing of time now to watch the sunrise, to live in a day, and to be truly ourselves, which is the best gift we can give to others.”
Jubilados reach back to the young, offering support, encouragement, mentorship, an appreciating eye, and an open ear. Being a Jubilada or a Jubilado is not about traveling, going to the theater, and playing golf, although all these are fine and enjoyable activities. Jubilados do more. They give back and serve, not out of guilt or duty, but for the joy of it.
According to psychologist Martin Seligman, author of the book Authentic Happiness, serving others is much more satisfying over the long haul than doing things to please one’s self. “Focusing on feeling good only creates a hunger for more pleasure,” he says, “whereas doing good can lead to lasting happiness.”
It’s time for the baby boomers to step up and claim their role as Jubilados. Instead of trying desperately to prolong our youth, we should be savoring the freedom we have to experience and express joy. To live jubilantly. If we get this aging thing right, growing older may one day become what it used to be—an accomplishment worthy of honor and respect. If some day the young look up to the old again, and seek our advice, it will be a sign that we finally wised up. Viva los Jubilados!
Eric Utne and Jeri Reilly are working on The Jubilados’ Manifesto: A Guide to Living a Jubilant Life. Please send them observations, anecdotes, and opinions about what it means to be an elder.