by Richard Bergstrom
Today I’m celebrating my 67th birthday. I have now lived longer than my grandfather, Rudolph Bergstrom–by 192 days to be precise. He never saw his 67th birthday. It was June 9, 1964, when my family excitedly headed down Highway 93 from Kalispell, Montana on our way to Disneyland. A Montana State Trooper pulled us over and informed us of Grandpa’s passing. We turned around and headed back to Kalispell just as the epic Montana floods of 1964 were rising around us. Grandpa went out that morning to chop down a tree and dropped dead of a heart attack. He had retired just one year earlier as chief engineer from the Great Northern Tie Plant in Somers, Montana.
I decided to mark the day in advance when I would turn the exact age to the day that he died. I even added a countdown app to my iPhone. It occurred on July 2nd last year, exactly 192 days ago (the countdown app is still active and counting forward). It was also the day we uploaded our book, Third Calling: What are you doing the rest of your life? to Amazon for publication. That was not a coincidence. I had made it a goal to finish our book and upload it before passing that milestone. A wise sage once said, “Live every day as if it were your last and one day you’ll be right!” This was not a morbid exercise for me, but rather a sober acknowledgment of the finiteness of life. Our book presents an optimistic message about living a life of purpose in your “third-third” of life. But for Grandpa Bergstrom there was no opportunity to discover a new purpose for his “third third”. Grandma Bergstrom, on the other hand, lived to be 100 and spent the next 35 years as a widow. She could usually be seen sitting in her favorite chair, looking out her second-story window in a senior residence on 2nd Ave West in Kalispell. A block from Sykes grocery store, she kept track of all the passers-by and also faithfully followed the Atlanta Braves on her TV. I can’t say that she lived her final third third of her life with a great sense of purpose; at least not as we have come to view it.
So what compels us, as Baby Boomers, to think that we are different from our grandparents that went before us? What makes us think that we will, in fact, live beyond our mid-60’s, and live with purpose? And how long must we live to authenticate our message of a Third Calling in this stage of life?
Jim Fixx wrote The Complete Book of Running in 1977, then died jogging at age 52. How tragically ironic. I have often wondered how long I would need to live to authenticate our message of a “Third Calling,” but have decided it is not a matter of how long one lives, but simply how–with a sense of purpose and calling for this stage of life we are in. In fact, I have found my “Third Calling” in writing our book and sharing its message around the world. We have gone on the record that we will not go quietly into the night or the rocking chair. We choose not a life of disengagement and leisure, but rather one of continuing engagement and service, finding purpose in each day of our lives. I wish the same for you on this, my 67th birthday!
By the way, with Grandma Bergstrom’s encouragement, we did get to Disneyland after Grandpa’s funeral in 1964. One year later our family moved to Phoenix, returning to Kalispell every summer to visit Grandma and to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2000.