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The Third Chapter
Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50

by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot


I cried as I read the book The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Why? It was my own personal story. It was so uncanny that each part of the book explored and explained all that I had been trying to do.

In the first section on loss and liberation when one reaches the transition period in our "circle of life," Lawrence-Lightfoot says, "The transition is made easier and smoother if we search out continuous learning; the skills and qualities that we honed in the past might be transferred to the new problems and situations that we face in the present and future." To me even section titles are symbols of understanding what those who are going through their "Third Chapters" means. "Facing the Mirror," "Loss and Liberation," Constancy and Change," "Healing Wounds: The Journey Home," "Looking Back and Giving Forward," "Crossing Boundaries and Embracing Contradictions," "New Learning: Body, Voice, and Soul," and "Cracks in the Mirror," literally show the path that people follow as they go through their Third Chapter, me included.

As I read the samples of the people Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed for her book, one woman hit a chord in my soul. Katrina Adams, a portrait painter, unlike the others Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed, "spent her life as a single mother taking on a variety of graphic-arts jobs that barely put food on the table for herself and her two sons," which was my story too. Like her, I was a single parent and well understood how hard it is to go through the Third Chapter. When the first and second ones were so difficult you end up reaching out for help.

As the book describes what the "Third Chapter" is all about and how to handle the transition, it also explains what is wrong with the system we live in. For example, Lawrence-Lightfoot says it starts with schooling, "We work to prepare our young people for the next step up the educational pyramid, or the first level of employment, and we ignore the long view." She continues with, "We are missing the necessary institutions and infrastructures to harness the action and energy of people in their Third Chapters." How true, how true... as a student myself, back in school on the road to a new vocation, I have found that as Lawrence-Lightfoot brings out, "So many teachers do the opposite: they make you feel dull and dumb, as if you will never truly be able to grasp the esoteric material that they are presenting."

Overall, I highly recommend that both the young and old read this book: the young to prepare themselves for what they too will one day have to go through,and the 50-plus group to help them understand what they have felt and could not figure out.

The Book

Sarah Crichton Books / FSG / Macmillan
December 22, 2009
Self help / Aging / Sociology
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The Reviewer

Sylvia McClain
Reviewed 2010
NOTE: Reviewer Sylvia McClain is the author of the 2nd edition of The Write Life: A Beginning Writers Writing Guide and Skipping Through Life: The Reason I Am. She is also editor of the Scribal News Calendar, a newsletter of writer events and happenings.
© 2010