I wonder how many different transitions each of us experiences during a life time.
There are the obvious developmental stages we all move through: babyhood, toddlerhood, childhood, pre-adolescence, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and older age. But, hopefully, every transition offers a time for introspection, a time to consider who we are, who we want to become and, in the end, who we have become.
In my extended family (where each of my parents was one of 8 children), there were never fewer than 100 people – aunts, uncles, first cousins, second cousins, second cousins once removed, and the list went on – attending a family party or wedding. But as children, each and every one of my cousins (and myself, as well), imagined that we’d always be seated at a table designated for “the children.”
Then, as the years passed, and most of us married, we were seated at tables for the young adults. Without going through the many years from those years until now, I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to the fact that now that we are being seated at the “old peoples’ table,” it is a shocking, visible, public acknowledgment/humiliation of sorts. It is letting everyone know that we are no longer who we were, that now our children and grandchildren are being seated in the chairs and at the tables that once were ours. And it’s not that it should be otherwise that makes it shocking. It’s rather that most of us don’t see ourselves as others do. My cousin Ron, for example, will always be a year younger than me, and cousin Hannah a year and half older, and we’re all still kids. Aren’t we? Isn’t age only a number that reflects the years we’ve lived? Years. Time. Man-made constructs that may reflect a change in the way we look, but not necessarily how we feel or perceive ourselves to be … until, that is, we have grandkids who are probably the only ones who really know we’re not kids.
“Don’t worry, Grandma,” my grandson Eric recently said: “You can learn to play that computer game if you try. I’ll explain it slowly and you’ll get it. You’ll see.” And he’s only 8! Imagine how old and impaired he must think I am!
So, yes, the times of transitions from one stage to another, one role to another, one profession to another and sometimes even one marriage to another … they all define who we are, what we’ve learned or not learned from any given experience or period in our lives. The bad news is that try as we may, we can’t stop time from moving on, marching to its own drummer, just as we march to ours. Yet, we can mark time by appreciating it, by valuing and treasuring the relatives whom we love, the friends whom we’ve had for years and those whom we’ve just recently met. We can accept life’s challenges with dignity and pride or we can decide we’re too old to learn anything new, to do anything differently from the way we’ve always done it and to remain closed to change and the changes in the world that are occurring too quickly for any of us – young or old – to keep track.
Perhaps this summer more than summers past, I am aware of 2009 as being a time of transition for many of us in my immediate family. I’m also aware of how other people’s lives are changing - some for the better, others worse. However, as each of us transitions from one day to the next, from one stage in our life to another, it gives us reason to pause, if you will, to mark times of transition without losing hope.
I do not find it to be acceptable, for instance, - now that my knees hurt when I walk up a flight of stairs, when my knees never gave me a problem before – to allow those knees to define who I am or for others to define who they are by their various ailments or illnesses. Pain is never fun and suffering is even worse. But as my parents and older relatives who are no longer with us would have said: “Life’s never easy, but would you want the alternative?” And they would have said that as orphaned immigrants who escaped from a country torn apart by war.
So why would I -- someone born in America and afforded the many privileges of living my life here – answer them with anything but an unequivocal NO. The fact is that all of us inevitably find ourselves being seated at tables that were once reserved for our elders, and though most of us don’t relate to that until we are forced to do so, the only reasonable alternative is to accept the reality of aging since it is one over which we have no control.
On good days, especially, I try to do so with grace and dignity. I attempt, at least, to give my grandchildren fewer and fewer reasons to think of me as someone who is ancient. After all, I have no desire to become a relic!
Anyone out there in cyberspace feel differently? Hope not!