PERMISSION TO RAISE A
( Originally posted Oct 2019)
It is fair to ask what brings me back to these blog pages. After all, I’m the guy who said it was time to head for the sidelines, that he had run out of October (and November) things to say. And that may have been true at the time. But that was before the following bit of elder wisdom that had me thinking second thoughts.
“For people like me the notion that ‘old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe’ is a cop-out. Those of us who are still able should be raising hell on behalf of whatever we care about.”
Those are the words of Parker J. Palmer, from his book On the Brink of Everything — Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. I am pleased to recommend the book, and especially the implied permission it gives me to continue with my own low-grade ‘hell raising.’
Later, in those same pages Palmer adds, “I may be old, but I’m still a member of this community. I have a voice and things I need to say, and I want to be part of the conversation.”
With that in mind I invite you to consider the following bit of elder-babble.
No matter what our age, our life-journey has included its share of highs and lows, twists and turns……which can be measured and charted in many different ways.
Drawing on our own recollections we can track our life’s path in terms of our school and work history, the things we have done and not done, how successful or unsuccessful our efforts have been, or the family we have helped create. Like a wilderness explorer blazing a trail through the forest we have left all sorts of personal markers in our wake.
This morning I set out to expand on another of those life-journey trail markers……namely, the most impactful friends I have made along the way, and how they have helped me become the person I am.
We humans like to blame someone or something else for what goes wrong in our life, while taking full credit when things turn out right. Yet too often we fail to recognize the contributions of our friends and allies……especially the ‘best friends’ we have made on our journey to today.
The logic seems so sound, so rational. Everyone needs and wants friends. They complete the person we are……helping us fill in the blanks that are part of every life. That is true in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood, even in elderhood.
We know, of course, that deep friendships are not a matter of random choice. They happen because mutual needs are being met. It is also true that over the years our needs have changed, replaced by new ones that lead us to new and different friendships. It seems to me that over time those close friendships, including the ones we have left behind, can act as trail-blazing markers, helping to tell the story of our Becoming.
At different stages of our journey different friends have helped us learn different life lessons. In a real sense I believe we can chart important parts of our own path to Becoming by remembering the best-friends we have won and lost along the way.
That was the story I meant to tell this morning, the notion that revisiting those life-changing friendships will help us understand the person we have become. Sadly, a closer look at my own ‘best friend’ history was enough to raise more than a little hell with my logic.
It took about five minutes to realize the truth of it. Perhaps that ‘best-friend tracking’ idea does not apply to me. Instead of remembering a string of best-friends, and their contributions, what I came up with was largely a list of kind and caring acquaintances, good people who were good friends, but not 'best friends.'
Though I certainly appreciate all those folks, and the ways they have helped me, when it comes to close, life-changing friendships…beyond the family circle that has always been central in my life……I was able to count just three individuals, three 'best-friends,' who played the life-changing role I have described. For some reason I expected there would be more.
First there was the high-school best-friend, my long-time buddy. Careening together through adolescence and into young adulthood he and I managed to give each other permission to raise a little hell a few times....taking us to places I would never have gone on my own. Though the results were not always productive, I owe him my thanks for the vivid memories those side trips created, and the way they impacted the timid young man I was in those days.
And then, of course, there was the high-school girlfriend, the first girl I knew who seemed to like me just the way I was. As intimidating as it sometimes was, it was first and foremost a learning experience. Truth to tell, I remember being an interested learner. But then, a year later, I was off to college, and she remained in high school. Before long ‘out-of-sight out-of-mind’ had won out.
Then in college, I met Roma, the one I was not willing to let out of my sight or my mind. We met in our freshman year and for 67 years continued to expand the role of Best Friend, and what that meant to us. The person I am today is largely the product of that Best Friendship.
Beyond those friends, and their impact on my life, what if in my remaining years there was a new 'friend' to factor into my 'best friend' equation? What if another age-appropriate candidate was to arrive on the scene, in an age-appropriate way? I am told that can happen. I have, in fact, written a dozen stories about such events.
Still, returning to my original point, the close and meaningful friendships that you and I have made in the course of our life journey (no matter what their number or when they arrived on the scene) have most certainly played a role in our Becoming. I know for sure that those on my micro-list have met that test.
All of which brings me to my suggested homework assignment for you, one that I highly recommend. The instructions are easy-peasy. Simply turn off the TV, crank the recliner back a notch or two, and close your eyes. If you haven’t dozed off by then, make a conscious return to your past. Introduce yourself to one or another of the once-close friends who have perhaps not crossed your mind in ages.
With that old friend perched clearly in the front of your mind ask yourself a few questions. What did you learn from your time with him or her? How might your life be different had he or she not shown up?
Make that internal dialogue as real and personal as you dare. Dig as deep as your comfort zone allows. This is not about sharing your insights with anyone. It’s about you exploring you.
Though I have no illusions of it happening, if you are so inclined I invite you to share your own bit of friend-related ‘hell raising’ with the rest of us……in an appropriate, abridged form, of course.
What do you think? Might it be time to revisit one or more of the ‘someones’ who once played an important part in your life……to perhaps mentally thank or scold them for their role?
Most of us recognize the ways we were shaped by parents and family. I’m not sure how many of us understand the important ways our friends and friendships have played a part. I think it’s worth the effort to see where that takes you.
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