When a plant blossoms, it announces the arrival of spring by producing buds before bearing fruit. When people blossom, we likewise flourish. However, when that lush season ends — and it will end, for everything and everyone — do we wither and become forever dormant?
Most of us toil our entire working lives toward the dream of financial freedom. But the truth is that, even if that dream comes true, life is nowhere near as sexy and rosy as we had imagined. Individually, we grapple with vanishing social circles, stiffer joints and sleepless nights. Collectively, we feel we are beyond the life goals — going to school, getting married, raising a family, retirement — that society sets for us, as if nothing remains but to let others write us off before the end.
As I turned 65 last year, my love of writing made me feel productive and connected. I had published a memoir, and I knew that I needed to keep that storytelling spirit alive; however, my cyclical lifestyle — doing the same things with the same people, even fun things like playing tennis and having a beer at any time of day — would lead to mundane musings at best. Around that time, the Inspired Leadership Initiative at Notre Dame caught my attention.
Now in its fourth year, the ILI is designed for people who have completed their traditional careers and want to spend a year contemplating life’s second act. Participants attend core lectures and discussions and audit classes with students while taking advantage of the University’s nearly unlimited resources for personal enrichment and self-discovery.
As a retired principal engineer whose life trajectory led him from a Chinese re-education camp in the early 1970s, during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, to graduate studies in economics at the University of Cincinnati, work at AT&T and the publication of a memoir about these experiences, I imagined a year at Notre Dame would put my feet on a new path. How, I wasn’t sure, because the notion of campus life had become so remote to me, and I had never been to Notre Dame. Looking back now at the end of my year, I am astonished by the outcome, which has surpassed all my expectations.
Originally published by Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu in its Autum 2023 issue.