The Third Age

Yesterday I had a telephone call from Rupert (not his name). I usually see him once a fortnight but recently he has been away suffering from bone marrow cancer. The news was good. Following courses of treatment he is now clear, although it is too early to confirm permanent recovery. Part of my pleasure is selfish. Rupert is a clinical psychologist and has a special interest in Eastern religions. He has been an invaluable contributor to the fortnightly philosophy group which I lead. And he offers his professional skills freely to members of the group.

The third age of life, following childhood and full employment, can be a long one. And, for some, it can be miserable. Lack of regular human contact and a range of interests can lead to loneliness, depression and increasing poor health. About half of this population live alone and some ten per cent report loneliness. This may come from illness or bereavement, and the loss of companionship in retirement from working life. The rate of depression is high and, without treatment, the effect on general health, not excluding suicide, is serious. Perhaps we do not value ordinary, everyday, relationships until we lose them.

The misery is not relieved by hearing that third-agers are a drain on society consuming an unfair share of public resources. They may not know that as a group they contribute a net £40 billion to the economy including taxation, social care and volunteering. Alison Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Queen Mary University, London, even suggests that they are used as a convenient excuse by government for starving the NHS.

Friendships tends to develop, and to be maintained, when circumstances provide opportunities to be in each other’s company — which in turn results in finding common interests and sympathies. So a solution might lie in a structure which is designed to further these aims. I would suggest one organisation which is having considerable success is the University of the Third Age. This originated in France, establishing extra-mural connections with formal universities. In the UK, it operates independently, and is broader in its approach. It has 400,000 members, with an ambition to double this by the end of the decade and, under the auspices of the Third Age Trust, recently celebrated the opening of its 1,000th centre.

I have no formal connection other than as a member and a leader of a group for many years but my experience, in a leafy suburb, will convey the atmosphere. Central to the organisation are the small groups which meet regularly. Typically, they work under a leader and meet in a private house or council premises. The coverage is extensive. I note 85 current groups in my local U3A. They cover many aspects of the arts, music science, current affairs, history, active pursuits and games. And, if anyone chooses to start a group related to their special interest they will get the help they need to promote it. In addition there are formal talks, study days, short courses, organised expeditions and summer schools.

The learning methods tend to be informal. While much will depend on the leader, the main source of knowledge will be in the membership of the group. Discussion and participation are the key. The knowledge will often lie in the experience of the membership. When my wife started a current affairs group, several years ago, she found herself surrounded by retired international experts. Her expertise lay in knowing how to use them.

My own philosophy group discusses respectfully religious and secular views. The favourite topic is moral philosophy. Needless to say, this is more about defining the questions than arriving at answers. That is the nature of philosophy. Some of the issues end up in this column, and vice versa. Over the years the group has of course had turnover. This is not because they choose to leave but because old people, rather inconveniently, die. In my imagination I see already a group of ex-members up in Heaven – and still discussing. I wonder if they have the answers now. It must, for instance, be easier to conclude a discussion about what Socrates really meant, if you can ask him directly. Though, knowing Socrates, you are more likely to get another question than an answer.

The University of the Third Age has no political agenda. Apart from the wide variety of views, its strength does not lie in such power but in knowledge and truth – achieved through formal and informal debate. I have no doubt that the members are better prepared to contribute to society through formed opinions and constructive voting choices – skills particularly needed at the present time. And they are likely to have more friends, and to live longer and more happily too.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Third Age

  1. Nektarios says:

    Thank you for letting us know Quentin of St. Joseph entering into her rest in the Lord. She was indeed a person I got to know better on email than through the blog and were in regular touch and daily prayers.
    My deepest sympathy to her lovely family who loved her and latterly cared for her. We will all miss her on the Secondsight blog.
    I will remember her with much affection.

  2. Martha says:

    Amen, Nektarios. I would like to reply on the blog as well, and thank Quentin for his tribute to a remarkable lady, and her son, Paul. for his lovely message. May she rest in peace.

  3. galerimo says:

    As I learn of the death of “St Joseph” through this blog I would like to offer my sincere sympathies to the family and all who mourn her passing; and to all her fellow bloggers. I always was interested to hear “St Joseph’s” comments and am grateful for the generous contributions she made here.

    May the light of heaven shine upon you now and may you rest in peace.

  4. galerimo says:

    What a delight it was to read your blog this week Quentin. It is so true that there is a veritable gold mine in the experience of years as it is shared through group activities like the ones your describe.

    Recently I joined a local book club. I turned up to find a small group of men about my own vintage. And a very good vintage it is, if I may say so.

    Well we each brought a book to offer to our fellow clubbers by way of recommendation. Before things progressed very far it became evident that none of us could recall very clearly the material we were supposed to be recommending. It was hilarious. There was no doubt that people had really enjoyed what they read it was just that none of us could remember all that well, what we had enjoyed.

    The night ran for two hours. And the rich tapestry that emerged of people’s lived experience was absolutely fascinating.We just chatted about our experiences. I never met such a varied bunch. The meanderings and the wicked ways of all those years would make a thumping great read if ever it were written down.

    The bookless book club might be something worth consideration by the Third Age.

  5. Brendan says:

    Indeed, like Galerimo I was saddened to hear of the death of St.Joseph – a dear soul whom I felt keenly,in some ways traveled the same road as myself ‘ in faith.’ In her own personal trials shared with us on this blog we have lost a staunch advocate of life and the Catholic Faith. My condolences go to all those who like me were touched by her – her family , colleagues and friends.
    May the Lord shine upon her and bring her swiftly to the eternal reward she undoubtedly prayed for and desired,….. in heaven with Him.

  6. Iona says:

    I shall miss her. I hope someone picks up the NFP baton which she carried for so many years.

    There is a local U3A in my area, and some friends of mine are closely involved, but so far I haven’t joined. This may change, however. I must have a look at their programmes.

  7. Horace says:

    I also have always enjoyed reading St Joseph’s comments and found them enlightening. Requiescat in pace.
    Apropos the third age – I think that I must be approaching the fourth age – I have, for instance, had to give up my favourite occupation of computer programming
    ( http://hrat-btinternet.co.uk/index.html } simply because my memory is no longer good enough!

    • galerimo says:

      Thank you Horace. As I read your link I am delighted to be in such distinguished company. A life poured out in service is what I think when I see the image you share. We certainly have one thing in common – I definitely qualify for entry into that fourth age too!

  8. Brendan says:

    I too admire the ethos of U3A ; giving back in voluntary service what one has been given by society. My wife and I went to an ‘open day’ of theirs awhile ago held at a local hotel. Everything on show from ‘ Latin for beginners’, Backgammon club, political debating society , was on show by facilitators of various disciplines/pastimes. We were very impressed and in the great tradition of voluntary service in our islands given by those with age and a wealth of knowledge , wisdom and experience to share……no philosophical group though, Quentin.

    • Quentin says:

      See what they are missing – not having a philosophy group. Here is a question I presented to mine the other day,

      I hope there is life after death. I think there is life after death. I believe there is life after death. I know there is life after death. I am certain there is life after death.

      Distinguish precisely between hope, think, believe, know, certain. Would the definitions be the same for the contrary view, e.g. I do not believe there is life after death?

      • Brendan says:

        Well , untutored as I am ( is this Thomist Philosophy ?) and only from natural observance ( progression through natural law as expressed in the Cat.Cath.Ch. ) I see your little cluster as human gradation from primal uncertainty to certainty , in faith. The contrary would seem to indicate the reverse.- descent into atheism.

      • Quentin says:

        Brendan, you raise an interesting point when you talk of ‘certainty of faith’. I wonder what that means. I know what I mean when I say I am certain that today is Tuesday because I have indisputable empirical evidence. But where is the equivalent evidence about life after death? You may say that faith comes through the grace of God. But that itself depend on faith which in turn…etc.

  9. Martha says:

    Even crochet available here, but I settled for singing some time ago. A formal choir offering classical works to a high standard was becoming rather too demanding for us, both learning the music, getting to rehearsals on winter evenings, and standing for long periods holding and juggling music sheets and books during concerts. Singing in a smaller, less challenging group suits us much better now, and we now have the enjoyment of friendly little concerts with tea and coffee and mince pies, cakes, as appropriate from time to time. I believe it is considered very beneficial to mental and physical health to sing together, and can definitely recommend trying it even for anybody who thinks they can’t sing. The only problem is that our group is becoming so popular that we can hardly call it a small group any more, but how can our wonderful chorus leader and our brilliant accompanist find time for another one?

  10. Geordie says:

    Quentin,
    The five stages you have stated (hope, think, believe, know, certain) are the stages I go through on a regular basis. I have never gone through the negative stages about life after death.
    However in my younger days I was certain that the Catholic Church was the only true Church. Now I’m not so sure. The orthodox Churches have legitimate claims to be true Churches. Luther has been praised in recent Catholic statements. The Evangelicals seem to attract increasing numbers of young people to Christ and they still emphasise the Christian moral code which has been questioned by some Catholic groups in recent years. I hope the Catholic Church is a true Church but I don’t think it is the only one.

  11. John Thomas says:

    Yes, I joined u3A on retiring in Feb 2016 good organisation. I’m glad to learn from you, Quentin, that it is officially non-political – actually, the first big event I went to there was a keynote speaker who was decidedly … er …promoting a Leftward view on education, and I thought “Not another …!” – but I have not generally found this. I like your idea of philosophical discussion going on eternally (and with the big names present); personally, I’ve always thought of such things as all being ended when, after death, fullest Truth is shown to us – but (now, on earth, I can admit): I might be wrong …

  12. tim says:

    St Joseph is a sad loss to the blog – though we may be happy for her, trusting that she is in, or on the road to, Heaven. Requiescat in pace!

  13. John Candido says:

    I have just been catching up on reading past posts that St. Joseph has left us all for life with Him. I am sad to hear this news. Both of us have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues from time-to-time on SecondSight. There is no way of avoiding these conflicts at times, especially as we come from different vantage points and life experiences. I solemnly apologise for upsetting her at times through our robust exchanges on this blog.

    Vale, St.Joseph. RIP.

    • Quentin says:

      One of the consoling things about the death of a friend is that we know that we are forgiven for our faults, just as we, together with God, forgive their faults.

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