Tuesdays are Ideas Day here at Taking it to the Streets
Sometimes, when an idea wants to move in, I’ve noticed that it knocks three times. So when I heard about Richard Rohr three times within the span of a week, I was prepared. The third time was receiving his book “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” as a birthday gift from my dear friend Barb.
Had I not had the previous two “knocks” and were it not for how well Barb knows me I might have looked askance. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest, after all, and I would have expected something much different from I got. But given the knocks, and Barb’s assurance that “Di, you’re gonna LOVE this book” I jumped right in.
My birthday was mid-February and I’m an avid reader, so the fact that I finished the book last night is telling. The book was so delicious, so deep, so nourishing, that I savored every page, purposefully reading it very slowly. I hesitate to write about it, wondering if I can do it justice.
The quote that opens Chapter 1 gives a preview of the book’s theme:
“One cannot live in the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” – Carl Jung
So it’s a book about second half of life spirituality and about maturity. About deepening. It was not only enormously instructive, providing a clear view of what those of us in the second half of life ought to be (and to be focused upon and learning); but also the book provides a sense of great optimism and hope.
I’m meeting this afternoon with my best gal pal to begin our planning for the next phase of our live, seemingly upon us in a few short years. Sue and my best guy pal Bill and I plan to retire together, probably joining or forming some sort of cohousing community. In thinking about the next phase of my life I have focused a lot on finances and health and have tried to prepare for some lessening of abilities over time. And it’s good to be practical – plan to have a house on one level with no stairs, amp up one’s health regimes. But it’s easy to overlook the gifts – received and to be given – that the second half of life brings.
Rohr says that the first half of life is meant to ‘build one’s container’ – the persona, the job, the family, the home – to create one’s identity. The second half of life is meant to fill it (and, I think, to give it away).
The necessary bridge for most of us (all of us?) is an experience of ‘falling’ and failing. Having built a separate ego, we need to let it go – to join ‘the community of saints’ as it were, to be, as Bill Wilson wisely said “a worker among workers, a friend among friends.’
And so, those experiences that seem devastating are so very often the gateway to the very best of life. Any of us associated with 12 step programs know this.
But it’s not a given, you know? Many people have devastation and become bitter, or entrenched. I’ve always found it sad to see people clearly in the second half of life clinging stubbornly to the look/feel, ideas, habits and thoughts of the first half of life. I loved this quote Richard Rohr presented from the Native Americans: “No wise person ever wanted to be younger.”
I’d like my first half of life body back – though not my lack of care and appreciation for it. I remember fondly my first half of life ‘building years’ – my thirties were enormously satisfying as I ticked things off my list: Partner (check!), good job (check!), house in the suburbs (check!), strong sense of self (check!).
My life now, all these years later, is very different even in the ways in which it is the same. I live in the same house, but I’m neither starry-eyed nor dismissive about it – as a good container, it holds me well. I am back working in IT again, but I don’t want to be the Queen of the Hill – I’ve done that – now I TRULY want to be a worker among workers. I like what I do, I desire to grow my skills – but it is SO not who I am – it’s how I make money and how I spend time – a place to learn, to be of service and to get some money.
However, lest you think that I am the Master of the Second Half of Life, I was chagrined at various parts. Take this little snippet from page 118:
“You fight things only when you are directly called and equipped to do so. We all become a well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly.
By the second half of life, you have learned ever so slowly, and with much resistance, that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot, and incites a lot of push-back from those you have attacked. This seems to be one of the last lessons to be learned.”
I hope God will be gentle and kind with me in learning that lesson. My passion, surely a wonderful attribute in the first half of life, and still a tool that can be used for good, has not always been a good master.
This book is rich, ripe, full, deep and very thought-provoking. And it’s author – what a delight! Not a “party line” guy – not at all. I don’t reread a lot of books – the only one I’ve read multiple times is “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. But I suspect this will be a book to be relished again a bit further down the line. For, I’ve noticed that my kittens, having recently turned 1-year-old, are metamorphosing into cats. A bit less playful, yes, but a lot less destructive, too. Perhaps I too am metamorphosing – and this book can be a barometer for me. I’m hoping that the “Oh dear!” passages will soon be “ah, yes!” passages.
Have you heard of Richard Rohr? Read the book? Have some thoughts on second half of life spirituality? Please join the conversation!