When I moved to South Florida over 30 years ago, I encountered a delightful column inThe Miami Heraldcalled “The Third Third.”
Written by Claire Mitchel, a 60-something Jewish grandmother, it chronicled the daily joys, challenges, and insights of a womanwho lived through economic depression, war, the horror of family members lost in the holocaust, a growing family, and prosperity.
She was now entering the “third third” of her life.
Now years later, like Claire Mitchel, I am now in the third third of my life. I’ll be turning 69 in a few months. This is a milestone.
The first third of your life is devoted to growing up, going to school, learning about life and relations, and overall figuring out who the hell you are; the second third to pursuing yourambitions,putting down roots;and perhaps reevaluating the decisions made about relationships and goals when you were younger and knew everything.
Coming into the third third, you’re coming into the home stretch. You are the person you created, you have the life you made. Thefutureis no longer a land of limitless possibilities. For people like me, gay, straight, or whatever, “It Doesn’t Get Better.”
Butthis is what Claire taught me: don’t despair.Rather than lookto the future, younow have the precious opportunity toreally gratefully appreciate the present. You have time now to look aroundand see the world in all its craziness and beauty.
Your most valuable asset is your experience: the people you knew, the people you loved, the things you’ve done, the events you witnessed – all now tinged with a bit of nostalgia but also a deeper meaning and appreciation.
For me, one thing I am really grateful is how much my life, and the lives of people close around mehave been shaped by ourbeing members of the Stonewall generation, that cohort of people who came into their own in the 1960s and 1970s.
Our formative years were defined by the explosive political andsexual revolution of Stonewall and the era of Gay Liberation. It was a unique time of discovery, pleasure and hope.
To quote Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven.”
Such euphoria was relatively short and our lives soon took onmore serious hue.First webecame the special targets of the newly emerging religious right. We saw how homophobic America could be.
And then there was AIDS.
I remember in the ‘70s howfriends in the bar joked: “Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.” In the 1980s the line became very painfully ironic as many of the beautiful faces quietly disappeared from the scene.
Still in that decade, many of uslearned aboutcaring, compassion and courage. For many of us during those plague years Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit “I Will Survive” became a personal anthem that we sang and danced to with a special fervor.
And we did survive, individually and as community. Indeed, the obituaries written for our community in the mid 1980s by right wing politicos and religious bigots only seemed to fuel our energy and determination.
AIDS and the attacks on our community gave us the desperateangerto tear down the closet and “Come Out” with a vengeance. And by the 1990s, it seemed we were winning;we sensed that history was on our side. Not only would we survive, but we would flourish.
Today as many of us in the Stonewall Generation have entered our “third third” and we are living in a world far more different thananything we could have imagined in our youth.
A hometown friend of mine, who became part of the 1970s scene in San Francisco, recently visited me. As we were walking through Wilton Manors, noting the openly gay and relaxed, home-like character of the place, he said to me: “This is the vision of the promised land we had back in the Castro.”
Yes I know it is not perfect, just as our lives are not perfect. After 60 we especially become mindful of the losses, the regrets, the disappointments, the unfulfilled hopes, ambitions and loves. We realize that our body, once our glory, is now more of a relic.
But hopefully we can still contribute to bettering our lives and the lives of those around us. Hopefully we have reached a state of equanimity to realize that to avoid sorrow is not to have lived life.
We of the Stonewall Generation are blessed. To use Oliver Wendell Holmes words for an earlier generation, “Through our great good fortune, in our youths our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.”
Claire Mitchel died at the age of 89. Writing her column till the end she completed over 1,000 weekly items.
In spite of our differences – she a proverbial Jewish grandmother, me agoy gay man – I now sense in her weekly the musings a fellow pilgrim soul.
We both lived in interesting and turbulent times. The world was changing in ways unimaginable. We were part of that change. More importantly, we both viewed ourselves and others with compassion and good doses of humorous irony.
But most importantly we both realized how lucky we were. Not just because of the things we experienced, the people we knew, the people we loved. No, we are lucky because we also havefront row seats to the greatest and most interesting show on earth – our own lives.