The Second Half: Exploring the ‘D word’

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

In our Second Half, we have the opportunity to step away from many of the responsibilities of early adulthood—career development, education, raising a family, building a nest egg, and acquiring stuff like a house, car and even a snow blower. Once we reach middle age, we cross these goals off our list and are ready to expand, gradually or like a cannon ball, into the world of the “privileged class” of retired folks.

Leisure! No responsibility! Time to pursue your heart’s desire! Fun, fun, fun!

Yeah, that’s what I thought…for most of us, the concept is pure fantasy. As a kid, however, that dream was as palpable as popcorn at the Saturday matinee: I could smell it, touch it, taste it. Then, I saw a news story about seniors on Social Security eating cat food for dinner.

Today’s dream of retirement and a comfortable seniority is tenuous, at best. Second Half friends are bitching up a storm about it: “Those damn (Republicans, Democrats, fill in the blank) are gonna screw us out of our future!”

While I believe the political climate will eventually hear all the shouting about The Greatest Generation and baby boomers wanting security and comfort in their old age, I also believe an approach of DIVERSITY can only enhance these efforts.

There, I said it…the “D word.” I started thinking about the dreaded notion of DIVERSITY again recently, because of two things:

1. The Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR) at Rock Valley College is pursuing a more diverse population and curriculum through its new Diversity Task Force, of which I am a member; and

2. My book club decided to read and discuss To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee—this year was the 50th anniversary of the book, published in 1960.

“For heaven’s sake, Kathleen, what has diversity got to do with our Second Half?”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was a recent question. My friends have the distinct advantage of listening to me discuss my column ideas ad nauseam and then demanding answers to their concerns about these topics. As a result, I have a fertile field of ideas and information from which to write, and they get to be annoyed at and argue with me, a famous writer—everybody wins!

In our Second Half, our world begins to diminish—we lose our connectedness with the greater population in various arenas, such as our academic environment, our careers, and our kids’ activities. We may even be limited by physical or emotional ailments, or even transportation concerns.

“How can you say that?” one pal argued. “I travel more now than ever before, and I do volunteer work at the church!”

Her work for the church and her travel share a common denominator: both are primarily with people in their Second Half of life!

“I’m not suggesting you are sitting home getting moldy,” I explain, “but our activities tend to be with like-minded folks in our general age bracket. Diversity in activities and social involvement has to be a path that is chosen—deliberately!”

I did a little research:

“In a group setting…members tend to discuss what they have in common rather than their differences. … [I]nstead of group information sharing, debate should be encouraged so as to allow members to challenge the ideas of other members.”

From: What is Diversity in the Workplace? Benefits of a Diverse Workforce article by Gwendolyn Cuizon, Jan. 29, 2009 (Read more at Suite101:

That is the spice that keeps life interesting and worth living, folks. I heard a friend exclaim, with great melancholy: “What difference does it make if I go out? Most of my friends are gone and the rest are fading fast.”

Well, it does make a difference in your ability to process information, to stave off the onset of dementia, to maintain vigor, to find a purpose in life, and to have people with whom to share this cool stuff. Diversity makes for a rich and wonderful world—who wouldn’t love to live longer if that were the case?

CLR has a variety of interesting classes, trips, speakers and things to do for folks age 50 and older. They are focusing on the “D word” in their curriculum.

“Aren’t their offerings diverse enough?” asked another Second Half pal. “They have classes in every subject you can think of—cultural, scientific, world religions, political issues—to attract a diverse population.”

“You can never be too diverse,” the CLR folks say. “We want to appeal to the broadest sweep of the population and offer the widest range of topics. This keeps our world from shrinking as we mature.”

I like that. And re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird reminded me how to apply diversity to life:

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” (Atticus Finch from the movie To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962)

Had I not joined that book club, I would never have met this diverse group, and, frankly, would not have “climbed inside their skin” otherwise. They have given me the great gift of a broader world just by sitting down to eat, drink, laugh and share ideas one night each month.

That’s diversity in its finest form…now, go get some and enjoy your maturity!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!