Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stepping Outside Your Age Zone

When I was in my early twenties, I always felt I had something to prove.  Too often I thought everyone older than me was looking down their noses at me, questioning what I could possibly bring to the table.  Left to my own devices, most of my friends were within my age range.  I'm sure my bristly desire to prove myself was annoying.

Now I'm in my late forties, and I see the generation gap with a different light.  I want my experience recognized.  I want to share what I've learned with others.  When I run into the age gap via movie references, technology or other experiences, I pull up short, nonplussed by this unexpected disconnect.  I have an odd need to point the disconnect out to others when it happens.  I suspect this is annoying, too.

However, I'm developing a real appreciation for the value of connecting with people of different ages and experience levels.  After all, every one of us has the potential to experience life at a variety of ages.  There is a common foundation there.

A younger person's perspective actually heightens the flavor of my own youthful experiences.  It gives me new insight into that version of myself, and reminds me of things I don't want to lose.  It's healthy for my mind and emotions, whether that perspective is an 8 year old or a 28 year old or something in between.  The effort to understand that person's viewpoint and learn from them provides an excellent antidote to encroaching codgerdom and judgmental stereotyping.

On the other hand, my relationships with folks older than me have taken on a new kind of poignance and significance, as the distance between myself and them shrinks.  The outer container of face and body loses some of its relevance.  I'm more keenly aware of the existence of an entire lifetime of memories inside that person.

Beyond the one-sided benefits, there is a certain positive, engaging creative chemistry born from cross-age interactions of all sorts.  When the generational walls come down and we actually connect on some other common ground (literature, writing, favorite activities, music, family), the best of every contributing age seasons the soup that is our shared humanity.

We humans tend to hang with people our own age.  It's hard to understand people who are at a different stage of life.  But there's much to be gained when you step outside your age zone.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Thoughts On a Sick Cat

Our cat was very ill recently.  We learned that cats tend to hide their illness.  When he was at his worst, he spent most of his time hidden under a table in a corner sleeping.  Apparently, cats seek to be alone when they're sick.  I imagine they are protecting themselves because they are vulnerable.  I wonder if this is because cats are mostly  solitary animals by nature.  If you don't travel with a pack, you have no one to protect you when you're weakened, so you have to hide alone in a dark cave somewhere and hope you can heal.

This got me thinking about human beings and how we deal with hurt, whether physical or emotional.  Some of us react like cats.  We hide ourselves away, cut ourselves off, don't want anyone to see us or come near us.  And yet, human beings are social animals, meant to live in communities.  At least, I've always believed so.  Still, some people may have enough of that loner in them that their instinct prompts them to respond to hurt the way loner animals respond.  Meanwhile, the pack-instinct folks seek out company and support and maybe even yowl at the moon.

When our cat was going through his illness, he didn't want to be pulled out of his cave, but sometimes we had to do it to for his own good, to give him the medicine that would help him heal.  At other times, I'd just lie down outside his hiding place and rest my hand on his paw so he knew we were thinking of him.  If our cat had been left to his own devices, he wouldn't have survived.  But, like it or not, he's become part of our small pack, and we nursed him back to health.

You can probably see where I'm going with this, since the extension to people is pretty apparent.  If you know a cat-type who's hurting, give them some time in their cave, but let them know you're nearby.  And when healing or survival requires it, pull them out of their cave.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Studying the Greatest Mystery

Death is an experience at once entirely universal and utterly personal.  It comes in so many forms and nuances.

Death is the ultimate mystery.  We might taste death's varied flavors from the outside many times during our lives, but we only experience it from the inside once.  No one truly knows what that one and final moment is like.  We try to understand it.  We have stories of "near-death" experiences.  If we sit vigil with someone who is dying, we watch for signs and signals that can send us some message about the journey.  We attach meaning to the signs.  We look for metaphors and significance everywhere, because we want so desperately to know what has happened to that person, and what will happen to us.

I have been thinking about death recently because my family has been dealing with death.  As we deal with this one death, we find ourselves revisiting other experiences of death in our lives.  The sudden and unexpected deaths.  The quiet deaths at home after a long life.  The deaths we met when we were young and it was new.  The deaths that came in cycles or came too early or too brutally.  We strive to sift this one experience into the larger understanding of the great mystery.  

We must study death.  We become deeper people by studying it.   Since every one of our stories ultimately has this same ending, we are compelled, each in our own way, to try to understand this thing that we all must face.