Jennifer James Column—Honor Your Life

Jennifer James joins the conversation on aging in her column "Honor Your Life."

I am excited about this new column, “Honor Your Life,” and the chance to make contact with both new and old readers. 3rd Act Magazine, as it charts new territory for those of us past 50, is a good fit for a cultural anthropologist like me. I have spent a lifetime interested in culture and illness (how beliefs systems can make us sick) and adaptive strategies (who can change and who cannot).

A lot has happened to me since The Seattle Times ended my previous column in 1999. Some of it was terrible, most of it was wonderful. Year by year, what I thought were permanent stones in my heart dissolved as my perspective changed. That quieting contributed to comfort within myself, my family, and my community.

At 73 I live in the home we built in 1991 and tend a garden that has aged into beauty. I have seven amazing grandchildren ages 6 to 21, acquired in various ways. I share my life with a good and endlessly interesting man I met at 60. I feel I have learned to love and be loved, a very difficult step for me. I take time to be with friends and smell the roses, daphnia, wisteria, lilac. I worry about the world, as I did at age 10…but then early this morning Molly had four puppies.

The recent memorials for Prince and David Bowie reminded me that one way we mark time in our lives is through music. A certain tune or beat can bring a visceral response. Can you recall a memorable song for each decade of your life? We sang my mother’s songs at her 90th birthday party. The first two were Bicycle Built for Two and Now is the Hour. When Mom sailed to America in 1947 with my brother and me, she left my father in London to wrap up his police cases. Now is the Hour was their love song.

My songs would begin with How Much Is That Doggie in the Window or Red River Valley, then Elvis and the thrill of Love Me and Heartbreak Hotel. I can see my grandchildren laughing when they sing the first one and realize I was once a child. When I began dating, after I was widowed at 59, I put rock ’n’ roll discs in my car player. On the way to a date I would turn up the volume and my body and mind would become 17 again. When I fell in love, it was to that beat and my male friend’s favorite aria from the opera Lakmé.

You still have a song if you listen for it. It may be a different tempo now, because each decade you know more about yourself and the world. You have tested your ideas and your values and you are freer to be who you want to be as you move closer to being mortal.

In this new column, I hope to push the edges of what can be said about our lives. I want us to conspire together for good lives now and good deaths whenever. The Latin meaning of “conspire” is “to breathe together.” Even if you and I never meet, we do breathe together because we still share the immense power of life.

Jennifer James has a doctorate in cultural anthropology and a master’s in history and psychology. She was a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington Medical School. Jennifer is the founding mother of the Committee for Children, an international organization devoted to the prevention of child abuse worldwide.

Read our new profile of Jennifer James on being 80.

Discussion11 Comments

  1. You were so influential in my life while I was managing a director’s position at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Management company. I am so happy to find you again. At 84 the 3rd Act is perfect for me. I look forward to this next year with you. Judy Slyne

  2. I was going through some old files on ideas for artwork I want to do, and ran across a very yellowed article written by you for The Seattle Times. The title was Slow down, gather yourself in. It is exactly what I needed to read. One of my sons died last year, followed five weeks later by a grandson. I find I need to regularly do exactly what you wrote. Your article just made it okay to do that. Thank you. Maridy Roper

  3. Jennifer, I want you to know, all those years you were writing columns in the Seattle Times, I was cutting them out. I had a special file folder filled with your wise words. As a young woman, your words helped me establish myself. When I was in the parenting stage of my life, your columns helped me stay grounded and to look ahead at the larger picture. Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, our sons grown and with life partners, I am thrilled to see you writing columns in this 3rd Act Magazine. I am also in my third act and trying to confidently move forward in a fulfilling way. Your words will once again guide me forward with grace and knowledge. I have learned so much from you and have held you so close in my heart all these years that I feel like we are friends.
    Thank you for your life’s work in our world, in our communities and in my personal life. Thank you for sharing yourself. Jennifer James rocks!!

  4. Hello Jennifer
    I used to read one of your books of short essays regularly to close my Mary Kay meetings.
    It just occurred to me today that I have apparently loaned my book out years ago and never
    got it back again. I can’t remember the title, but one of my favorites was “The Perfect Christmas”
    about not needing to make a bonbon tree or do everything perfectly to have an enjoyable holiday.
    I wish I had the book back. Can you please tell me the name and if it is still available? I loved
    every essay in it.

    • Hi 🙂 I loved Jennifer’s essay books also. They were titled Windows, Success is the Quality of Your Journey, and Visions From the Heart ?

  5. I went to my bookshelf tonight to organize my printed friends after having moved awhile back. I had to chuckle when I found two copies of Success is the Quality of Your Journey sitting on my shelf. I’d enjoyed the book so much but somewhere along the way I forgot I already had a copy and bought another.
    I’m glad to hear you’re writing for the 3rd Act. I don’t know the publication but I’ll find it to ready your work.
    Thank you for sharing yourself all these years!
    Deb W

    • Victoria Starr Marshall

      Thank you for your note, Deb. If you put Jennifer’s name into our archive search field, it should bring up all the articles she has written for us.

  6. I have often wondered what happened to you. I read your column in the Seattle Times when I was a young mother, and still have a few of your words of wisdom taped to the wall by my desk! On a whim, I looked you up on the internet and discovered that you had written more books (that I must get hold of now), but, most of all, it made me glad to know that you were well and happy.

  7. Hello. I have admired you and your work for years. I lived around the corner from you at three Tree Point and watched your beautiful home being built. It is charming to see how the garden has flourished.
    I invited you to speak to my colleagues at AT&T for a large event and was thrilled to sponsor your engagement. Your work and wisdom have inspired me to pursue a graduate degree in Applied Behavioral Science from the Leadership Institute of Seattle and to become a Master Practitioner in NLP. Overall, I love supporting people to gain insight about what makes their heart sing. I am a life coach, leadership coach and trainer of coaches. A theme here.
    I am happy to know that you are somewhere on the planet, making a difference and enjoying your life. My best to you Jennifer. By the way, I listened to your radio broadcast every day as I motored around Seattle working for Pacific Northwest Bell. Thank you again!

  8. Dear Jennifer,

    On a table to my right is a book with its front hard binding open. On the facing page is an inscription which reads: “Haydn, What a pleasure to talk with you,” Beneath is a “J” that swoops the breadth of those words written above— your signature so telling of your spirit.

    It was a dazzling moment, to sit quietly with you in the Aspen Institute and ponder a world you so eloquently (and, with a sledge hammer at times) helped reveal. Many minds in corporate America (at the time, 1996) were just beginning to understand that (genuine, authentic, mindful) leadership matters, and the future is always coming at you—“one must just look for it,” as you might say.

    “Thinking In The Future Tense” was a critical book for me. The thrill to speak with you in person left an indelible impact . My ability to engage, accept, discern, predict, and most importantly lead like a human being, first, were formed in the light of your brilliant insights. I always put you right there with Rachel Carson and Margaret Mead. I also put you with Twain and Marx, (Groucho). Your writing was pithy and inspiring to me, always.

    I’m forever beholden to you. I have often wondered about you over the years. I love that (with some certainty it appears) that you might read this.

    All the best,

  9. Hi Jennifer, Many years ago, I believe 92′, when you were moving into your home on the Point. Handyman Harry who was friends with my dad since kindergarten, hired me to help him move you into your lovely home. Matter of fact I helped bring down that awkward spiral staircase from the road above. It took several days gathering things from the different places you had stuff stashed around the area, which made me chuckle looking for the things you were wanting moved on each trip, because you had a lot of stuff! I too am a pack rat with what I call “memory makers”! Its ok, I like my father and his father, can fix anything and to do that you need resources to work with to fix stuff. When you were on KIRO radio, I would listen to your show when I was working a graveyard shift, giving ‘right on’ wonderful advice to those that wanted your beautiful insights on life! You truly had my attention whenever I listened, you gain my respect and admiration, so when asked to help you I was excited to meet you! Boy, was I pleasantly surprised how warm and friendly you made me feel from the start, moving things around the house. I met your mum and several of your friends, which were all friendly people that made the whole experience quite memorable to this day! How life changes with its ups and downs, like the miracle birth of my only child, to the misery of losing everything important to me in the divorce to her mother. So now almost 30 years later, I saw a article about a cultural anthropologist which reminded me of you, which got me to this point in time. I Google your name and here I am sitting on the edge of my bed reflecting to where my 60 years have gone or what has kept me moving forward? I left the great Northwest to help at the time my 101 year old grandfather. After his passing my daughter gave me the gift of a grandson, who is quite the hand full much like I was to my parents! Then this pandemic raises its evil rath and my father passes from Alzhiemers two weeks into lock down basically alone in a private 6 person 24hr nursing home. Change is the only consistent thing in our short life! As I get older so many miles from the loves of my life I wonder how or why I’m still living and breathing with all of the self inflicted activities I had done to myself which has killed so many yet I’m alive and kicking! Not with guilt only wonder, I’m happy in good health with a positive attitude that I had when it met you. Even with all of the chaos of the worlds lunacy of today, I continue to live each day to its fullest, giving as much as I can, mostly 12 hour days, to my new friends and neighbors in a senior mobile home park. I’ve beaten the odds, oh so grateful to being able to be true to myself. I can only hope that your eyes get the chance to read this book so that you get the same joy that I get in helping others! Jennifer thanks a million for the impression you made on me with the lifes lessons I learned from you! You are a beautiful, kind and loving person inside and out! The world is a better place because of your insights, wisdom and beliefs in the good of people, its in US all, if you only look inside to let it shine bright for others to follow and grow! Jennifer James you are sunshine in a stormy world! May Peace Be with You Always! Sincere thanks Brad H.

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