I turned sixty earlier this week. (In fact, it’s that year for many of my friends – Happy Birthday Dave, Gary, Tom, Craig, John, other Dave, etc., etc.!) But it has caused me to pause and think about certain kinds of life change. Just when does senior adulthood begin, for example? For that matter, when does an infant become a toddler, or a toddler a little girl, or a little girl an adolescent, or an adolescent an adult? And this is to say nothing of the conundrum of at just what point a person enters or exits the wonderfully and ambivalently-phrased stage, ‘middle-age.’ I’m guessing that sixty must mean that I am on the exit side of that poser, in spite of my denial. (Please, can’t we make it sixty-five, the traditional retirement age? Or even seventy, when the government insists I must start drawing Social Security?)
Change in nature can seem equally ambivalent. It can be excruciatingly slow if we’re talking about something like geologic time; or it can be surprisingly fast if we’re referring to an abnormally warm spring thaw or to ephemeral blooms. William Bridges in his book Transitions puts it this way:
Throughout nature, growth or change involves periodic accelerations and transformations: things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to happen – until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins.
And this is to say nothing of the baby dropping, the lake icing-out, the branch crashing down, the tectonic plate shifting, the first snow flurrying, the rabbits scurrying or the trout finally hitting my lonely fly.
So then, just like that, am I now a senior adult? Let’s think about this.
Bridges says that human change is different than that in the rest of the natural world, in that it tends to consist of three stages or seasons: a season of endings, a neutral in-between zone, and a season of new beginnings or possibilities. It’s usually not just *zap* and I’m different. It takes time to move into change, and that neutral zone can be accompanied by confusion and chaos, or by just plain reorientation. But the neutral zone -- that middle place -- is very real, and critically important to navigate well if life change is going to be understood and embraced. For just as in nature more can be going on than meets the eye, more also is going on in all three of these seasons than may always be seen. So the author continues to clarify the differences between plain change and true transition. In short, change is external, transition internal. Change is what happens to me, transition what takes place within me as a result of that change, either positively or negatively. Change is inevitable; transition is a personal choice, and it’s in that middle zone where healthy transition can form. Or not.
Change is inevitable, transition a choice…
And though change is a normal part of all of
nature, it is only us humans who must
undergo, if we are willing, healthy transition.
All this is to say that though change is a normal part of all of nature, it is only us humans who must undergo, if we are willing, healthy transition. Transition seems uniquely human, at least in its spiritual, emotional and psychological dimensions. So I guess that leaves it up to me if I am now a senior adult. And since people live in denial about all sorts of things – aging, self-awareness, fading beauty (whatever that is), health challenges, addictions, loss of position, decreasing skill, dying of a dream – I guess that also leaves it up to me about a lot of those kinds of things; the last thing I want is to be one of those people.
Yup, not so suddenly I’m a senior adult, or most certainly nearing the end of my neutral zone. But as I proclaim this, I also want to lean into what the old King James Version of the Bible says:
The days of our years are threescore and ten;
And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
Yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:10, 12)
~~RGM, March 29, 2014