After taking care of other people for decades, nurse Julie Rutkowski turned 49 and sought out some healing of her own — for her spirit.
“It was absolutely a sacred experience,” she says.
But she didn't turn to religion. Instead, Rutkowski climbed 16,200 feet — more than halfway up Mount Everest. She's a member of a generation that's never done anything simply. She's a baby boomer.
“From the time they were children,” says Wade Clark Roof, a professor of religion and society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “baby boomers have pretty much defined life on their terms.”
Roof's study of boomer religion is called “Spiritual Marketplace.” He says as boomers have reached mid-life, they've launched a cafeteria-like search for spirituality.
But why are the boomers, many of whom had rejected religious institutions when they were young, looking for something spiritual now? Experts say boomers are now facing their own mortality and considering what legacy they will leave.
Bob Boulognes, a 48-year-old boomer, recently moved his family from New York City — where they were not regular churchgoers — to Dallas, where they are teaching their children to become devout Methodists.
“It's a time in one's life where you're ready to embrace it,” says Boulognes. “And it makes sense.”
What was a mid-life crisis for previous generations has turned into a mid-life quest by boomers.
“With many it's a spiritual re-assessment in a general sense — a search for meaning,” says Dr. Gene Cohen of the Center for Aging and Humanities at George Washington University.
That's what Julie Rutkowski sought in her climb of Mount Everest, part of a generation of baby boomers now on a spiritual quest and getting ready for the rest of their lives.