From last week’s exhilarating experiences in partnership with National Geographic Society, we now turn to a different kind of exploration, namely what our world and society might look like if the average human life span continues to increase. Week Four brings us into an exciting conversation with a first-time programmatic partner, the Stanford Center on Longevity, as we explore “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World.” In this week, we look at some very heady questions: Do we really want to live forever? While being “forever young” may still be the stuff of dreams, longer lifespans are a reality of modern life. Living to 110 years old — at least — means new challenges for both individuals and society; how we meet those challenges will have lasting ramifications. What issues do longer lifespans present? We examine the political, the financial, the biological, the emotional. Where the scientific meets the ethical, we ask: We can live longer, but should we? Will longer lives exacerbate existing inequities? This isn’t a question for future generations — this is a question for us, right now. How are you going to adapt in this changing reality?
In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we welcome someone dear to my own heart, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. As many of you know — because I plug my alma mater every chance I get — I attended a Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University, and Fr. Richard is a celebrated Franciscan throughout the world. During a week focused on the increasing lifespan of human beings, Fr. Richard will be our guide to what he calls the “further journey,” a voyage into the mystery and beauty of healthy spiritual maturity. Revisiting thoughts from his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Fr. Richard helps us to understand the tasks of the two halves of life and teaches us what looks like “falling down” can largely be experienced as “falling upward.”
There are so many other programs to be excited about this week. Chautauqua Theater Company travels outside our gates to share a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with our regional neighbors at Jamestown’s Riverwalk on Saturday, and at Southern Tier Brewing Company on Wednesday. On Sunday, the Chautauqua School of Dance will present a gala afternoon of performances, and the ever-brilliant Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, brings us ¡Figaro! (90210), Vid Guerrerio’s contemporary multicultural adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. While there are so many other arts offerings, one of my favorites every year is our annual major inter-arts collaboration, this year also centered on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. If you’ve never seen our resident companies and schools join forces, there is simply nothing like it, and it’s not to be missed.
There are two last highlights to share (among so many wonderful offerings). Aja Gabel’s book The Ensemble is the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection I read this year. Her characters are complex, thoughtful, funny and soulful, and she masterfully brings you inside the delicate, delightful and intimate relationship that forms among people who make music together. Her talk about the book is this week, and while I’ll be presenting an update on our strategic plan at the same time, I’ll understand completely if you go see her speak about this wonderful piece.
I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid — you can see how well that plan went — and I was obsessed with “Star Wars.” If you notice a guy who looks like Chautauqua’s president in the Amphitheater geeking out this week, it’s because the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will provide the wonderful score while we all get to watch “Star Wars: A New Hope” in concert on Friday evening. I can’t wait. Oh, and we just happen to have a real astronaut on our lecture platform this week: Scott Kelly, also on Friday.
Whether this is your first week at Chautauqua or the continuation of a journey with us this summer, may you find your own ways to explore our galaxy. It’s full of incredible treasures for you to behold, and I’m grateful I get to go on the journey with you.
Happy Week Four!
Michael E. Hill