The Troisieme Age

By Linda M. Jackson, Aging Action Initiative Program Director

Last month, while at the Tattered Cover Bookstore at the Denver Union Station, I picked up Ageing: A Very Short Introduction. Rolling in the Amtrak car across the miles of Utah and Nevada, Nancy Pachana’s little book about the physical, mental, social, and economic aspects of aging laid out the field before me. 

The book had me at the first line:

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” (Swedish proverb)

What a simple way to convey to younger people the mystery about the world they will someday join. It’s a world as distinct as being a high school student, which nearly all of us have been and remember. The difference is that the experience of being older is largely unknown to most people who aren’t working in this field. Hence the ageism, born of fear of the unknown, in the media and elsewhere that we daily endure.  

Pachana wrote about the different phases of life, looking through an international and historical lens. I particularly enjoyed her description of France’s division of life into FOUR distinct phases. As an American, where one is young, middle-aged, or old, the insert of a ‘troisieme age’ — the period after children have been raised — is a compelling concept. It’s a time for learning and enrichment, a time of activity before health challenges and life’s changes catch up with our desire to step out. The University of the Third Age has chapters throughout Europe. 

Many of the older people in Marin are in the troisieme age, travelling, volunteering, enjoying time with family and friends, exploring interests now that they have more time.

I entered the aging field just a few years ago as a planner and community organizer and have been learning the field through the eyes of Marin’s leaders in the ageing sector ever since. We are unpacking the dimensions of ageing in Marin that are entangled in a complex system, laid over a bayfront and hillside landscape, governed by a history of political decisions that affect today the ability of people to grow old well in the place they consider their forever home.

I hope you had a good book to read during a summer interlude. We need these literary journeys into what other people know and imagine so we can better reflect on our work. There is a lot coming up. There will be meetings about California’s new Master Plan on Aging. There will be elections in November and next spring. There will be initiatives that we can’t yet suspect. Let us be ready!

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