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The Symphony of my life in stages

The past empowers the present, and the groping footsteps leading to this present mark the pathways to the future. —Mary Catherine Bateson

The Arch and the Staircase

Looking back at the past I’ve found it helpful to view the symphony of my life in stages as Jane Fonda also cites in her book “Prime Time”. She found it helpful to view the symphony of her own life in three acts, or three major developmental stages: Act I, the first three decades; Act II, the middle three decades; and Act III, the final three decades (or however many more years one is granted).

In “Prime time”, Jane Fonda presents two diagrams that visualizes two conceptions of human life that means a lot to me. As she searched for ways to understand the new realities of aging, she discovered the arch and the staircase.


The arch represents what I thought life to be, taking us from childhood to a middle peak of maturity, followed by a decline into infirmity.

The other is a staircase that shows our potential for upward progression toward wisdom, spiritual growth, learning—toward , in other words , consciousness and soul. Developed by Rudolph Arnheim, the late professor emeritus of the psychology of art at Harvard University, these diagrams are clear metaphors for ways we can choose to view aging.

Jane Fonda continues to add that “our youth-obsessed culture encourages us to focus on the arch–age as physical decline– more than on the stairway–age as potential for continued development and ascent. But it is the stairway that points to late life’s promise, even in the face of physical decline. Perhaps it could be a spiral staircase! Because the wisdom , balance, reflection and compassion that this upward movement represents don’t just come to us in one linear ascension, they circle around us, beckoning us to keep climbing to keep looking both back and ahead.”

Watch her talk in TEDxWomen

I can look back at the pain of heartbreak, losing a son, and losing a career as gifts of life. I gained strength, courage and confidence as I grappled with fear and conquered it along the way. I never imagined that my prime time would be this great despite the challenges that engulfed most of my married life. Life didn’t have to be miserable. I know now that it was a conscious choice to be happy.

Jane Fonda’s book on “Prime Time” is for women like myself who believe that “luck is opportunity meeting preparation; that with preparation and knowledge, with information and reflection, we can try to raise the odds of being lucky, and of making our last three decades— our Third Acts— the most peaceful, generous, loving, sensual, transcendent time of all; and that planning for it, especially during one’s middle years, can help make this so.”

Read excerpts of her book Prime Time

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