It’s Never too Late for This

From Outlook by the Bay, summer 2011

By Terry Portis

I am never quite sure how to respond when someone tells me, “The time for that has passed me by.” If I agree, is that insulting, questioning the person’s abilities? If I disagree, am I questioning whether or not a person knows their own life? Usually, I just sort of nod, but not too enthusiastically. The truth is that sometimes people give up too soon and too easily. Dreams and ideals that flourished in our 20s are crushed by the next 30 or 40 years of working too hard and too long on things we are not that thrilled by. There are two things in particular I want to focus on that are very often pushed aside in the noise and tumult in our lives. Those are broken relationships and daring to do new things.


We don’t remember when we stopped talking to our friend or family member. At one point we couldn’t imagine going a week or a day without checking in with them. The relation ship meant something, and life was better because that person was in it. Something happened  a disagreement, unkind words, hurt feelings  and the relationship seems lost forever.

David McCullough’s excellent book on the life of John Adams gives some fascinating details on the relation ship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their ability to work closely together and their mutual respect was known throughout the United States and Europe. Differing ideas about the French Revolution would greatly dam age their relationship. Their published writings on the topic were polar oppo sites, and they publicly criticized each other. This dispute and open criticism led to two decades when they did not speak to each other. It appeared the relationship was over.

At the urging of Benjamin Rush, a physician and fellow co signer of the Declaration of Independence, they began to correspond on a regular basis. They continued to write for 14 years before they both died on the same day in 1826. Rush simply remind ed them that they had shared some remarkable hardships and successes together, and that these were more important than the conflict that had driven them apart.


Three years ago a 76- year- old man decided to fulflll his dream, and climbed Mount Everest. Given the grueling training and the danger involved, this is remarkable. I am sure people told him that the time for climbing Mount Everest had passed him by, and most people would have nodded in agreement.

We have many wonderful examples of people who have done something daring later in life. At 77 an artist by the name of Grandma Moses decided to start painting. At 65 Winston Churchill became prime minister of England and dared to lead his country in a five year fight for its freedom. Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Af rica when he was 89, at 82 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe finished writing his famous Faust, and John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at 77. So, today, the time is ripe to pick up the phone, or a paint brush, because it’s never too late!

Dr. Terry Portis is director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College. He holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and can be reached at