I am in my car listening to the 1960s station on XM radio when “Ooo Baby, Baby,” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, comes on. Suddenly it is March 1965 again and I am fourteen. I am flooded with all the feelings I experienced at the dawn of my own adolescence---lightness, ease, anticipation, awakening, discovery, carelessness, invincibility, freedom. All those eyes-wide-open feelings that I remember having when life was still very young and the future was just a word. The only thing that mattered was today, not today as in the eternal-now, but today as in what’s-going-on-right-now. Minutes, hours, days, months unfolded effortlessly, without any real sense that a clock was ticking.
Trust me, these were not the only feelings that populated my adolescence. Anxiety, depression, self-doubt were constant companions, as well, but those other feelings, those feelings of youthful expectation were prominent, perhaps dominant.
Time passes. With my wife, I witnessed and celebrated the emergence of similar feelings in our daughters as they grew up. And in not so many years, we will see those feelings awakened in our two little granddaughters. This is a great joy. But enjoying those feelings second or third hand is not the same. The first-time quality of those adolescent feelings cannot be replicated or retrieved.
I think that recognizing and accepting this passage is part of what it means to grow older. In fact it is part of the spiritual agenda of aging. Since my retirement a few years ago, I have been occupied (and preoccupied) with not only what is left to do in my life, what I want to further accomplish, but what has and does this life mean to me. So, where exactly am I on this journey?
I recently looked again at Erik Erikson’s stages of human development and was disappointed to see that I have been misremembered my current stage of life. I thought I was still wrestling with generativity vs. stagnation---contributing socially-valued work to the next generation vs. being caught up in mistakes, regrets etc. Son-of-a-gun, according to Erikson, at least, I left that stage three years ago and have already vaulted on to the next stage: integrity vs. despair. The name itself makes me feel, well, despair. According to Erikson (what does he know anyway?) my job now is to make peace with my mortality and do the Big Life Review (perhaps a spread sheet would help), hopefully arriving at a feeling of integrity about the whole of my life. Then my loved-ones can put me on an ice flow and push me gently off to meet whatever is to come.
I’ve never been a fan of stage theories. Life’s much messier and complex and circular than that.
It is true, though, that I will never again have the first-feelings of adolescence; I will never again hear Smokey Robinson sing “Ooo Baby, Baby” for the very first time; I will never again fall in love for the first time; I will never again see my life stretched out before me like an endless path reaching beyond the far horizon. The greater portion of that path is now behind me, and what is ahead, no matter how long, is humblingly circumscribed.
But even the short path is remarkably rich. There is much, much more ahead, if by “more” one means quality vs. quantity. In the last twelve years I have written five novels. Thirteen years ago I would never have predicted this. I have discovered a part of me that I never knew was there. Many days I sit in front of this computer, completely surprised by what comes to me, the ideas, the feelings, the sensation of creation (Generativity, I say, Dr. Erikson!). I am learning that this is not just another phase, one that will only be followed by death, but that this is another beginning (to be followed, perhaps, by many others); a different beginning than any of the ones I’ve experienced before, but a beginning nonetheless.
Perhaps that is my spiritual task (at least one of them) at this time of life---to celebrate and make peace with what has been (the awfulness and the wonderfulness of it); to remain open and welcoming to what may come (despite the uncertainty of it); to cultivate appreciation for life lived now; and to ready myself for the promise born with each new beginning.
Read more about Seaburn's novels by clicking on "more..." under his picture above.