The best third of life

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange says that if he’d known how pleasant the last third of life could be, he’d have started it much sooner.

(LANGE) You raise kids for 20, 30 years, about a third of your life. They keep things hopping most of the time. Somebody always needs something: an all-nighter in the bathroom with thermometer and vaporizer, rides to the dentist or hockey practice, new shoes, school clothes, money for the movies, the car for the prom. You don’t think about it much; you just do it.

You and your spouse are robins, bringing home worms for the nestlings. Sometimes the worms come hard; sometimes the nestlings are fractious. The intense relationship you and your spouse once had is recorded in photographs on the sideboard.
It’s submerged now in the life of the family.

The rides to soccer end at last, and the long evenings worrying about whom they’re with and how they’re driving. It’s over. You know where the car is and how much gas is in the tank. There’s no throb of alien sounds coming from behind closed doors in dis- tant rooms. The cat slumbers on the bed of her departed friend. The dog lies with her nose toward the front door, expectantly. But it’s over.

You have the chance to resume that long-suspended relationship: driving in an open roadster; moonlight swims in abandoned quar- ries; dancing till closing time. But somehow, closing time has come and gone while you were teaching the kids to fly. So has the roadster. And who can dance to that music, anyway?

Last Saturday was a washout, a day for errands, cleaning the shop, catching up on paperwork. We went out that evening for seafood. Not my thing, but she was buying. Church Sunday mor- ning. Then, as the sun broke through during the afternoon, I asked if she’d like to go for a paddle. She’d bring the cold drinks; I’d load the canoe, the paddles and the PFDs, and the dog’s beanbag.

A nearly perfect afternoon on the pond – southwest wind slowly dying, sun dodging in and out, a hooded merganser keeping a cautious distance between us. Trout were rising everywhere, and we slowly realized that their splashing, the drip of the water off the paddle and an occasional sigh from the snoozing dog were the only sounds we could hear.

An osprey rode the breeze above us, watching the same fish we were. We drifted slowly toward a tiny island, and a black-and-white rock turned into a Canada goose sitting on her nest and holding her long neck and head flat against the ground. We backed away. Every other creature seemed to be up to its ears in the second third of its life.

We remember, we help ’em when we can and otherwise leave ’em alone. An empty nest, you know, may be surrounded by broken shells, but it has its charms. And we hope it lasts a little longer.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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