Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I've been thinking lately about transitions, feeling strongly that I am in one, though just what form it will take is not yet determined. In any case, I have passed through most of the classicalpattern of ages of man, (1) infancy and childhood (2) youth, h.s. to college (3) young adulthood, late college, the army, grad school (4) adulthood, marriage and work (5) late adulthood/maturity, the past decade or so, and am moving into (6) early old age, with (7) retirement and (8) very old age, e.g. in a nursing home still to come.
The idea of basic transitions suggests there may be different arts of living for different stages of life. It is also relevant to the idea of personal self-knowledge: knowing that you are making or need to make the transition to a new way of conceiving yourself. It is certainly true that different categories of value are centrally important in different periods of one's life.
Erik Erikson breaks up the stages of life somewhat differently than I, linking them to specific "identity issues" that need to be resolved before a person can fully move into the next developmental stage in their life: (1) infancy - trust/mistrust (2) toddler - autonomy/shame & doubt (3) preschool - initiative/guilt (4) childhood - industry/inferiority (5) adolescence - identity/role confusion (6) young adulthood - intimacy/isolation (7) adulthood - generativity/stagnation (8) senior - integrity/despair, with the chief part of life falling in adulthood (25-65).
I find those categories useful, but am close to old age by his measure (I'm 63), entered into 'adulthood' later than he suggests, and have sought generativity rather differently in the past decade or so than I did in the earlier two decades of my adulthood, with a stronger emphasis on friendship and relations to others, a deeper sense of my mortality, and a conscious desire to shape my 'art of living.' I also sense the coming years until I retire and probably even beyond that will take significantly different forms, if I live to be as old as many of my ancestors (85-90).
This awareness of transition has pointed me toward the new future I have before me, even if I experience mature life autobiographically as one in which I have made many of the outwardly most basic decisions, even if I know my life by mere quantitative measure is mostly over. It no longer makes the same sense to think of time as enormously open, of the long run of my career and love and friendships, of grand ambitions.
But this has helped me to make each moment, each day more intense, at the same time when I am more relaxed about it. I give myself more fully to the kairos/opportunity with just this other person(s) than I did when I was in my 20's or 30's. Expecting and demanding less of people, in particular myself, I find I achieve more, relate better, even evoke more positive feelings and actions in others. My generativity does not depend on me alone. My integrity is more intact now than ever.