Throughout our lives, we go through transitions. Some are small and uneventful while others are colossal and life changing. Some we choose, others are chosen for us, and some just happen… Some are joyful, some can be devastating, some just are. But we carry on, not knowing what each day will bring. In some ways, this mystery is a very good thing. If we knew what was to come, how we would live, what would become of us, whom we would meet, where we would end up, why we chose one path over another, if we had the answers to all these questions in advance, would we actually live our lives differently? Probably not.
Most of us, by and large, are expert rationalizers. We are inclined to find very good reasons for our actions. Defending our positions with great acuity and righteously expressing our indignation with those who would oppose us. In the current world context, this may be more true than ever… But more about transitions.
Often we mark important transitions with festivals, parties, celebrations and the like. We celebrate the birth of a new life. In fact, we do this in advance of the actual occurrence with what I consider an awful tradition of baby name games, specialty cookies in the form of baby carriages, ribbons and too much pink and/or blue… in other words, baby showers. In all honesty, I’ve really only attended a few of them given that these have traditionally been all female events. Lucky for me and my gender association…
In our tradition, a huge milestone transition is the first birthday celebrated with much joy, food, family and friends – I think a remnant from a time when the infant mortality rate was much higher than it is today. The celebration is a perfect excuse to bring together a full community of loved ones into one place where differences are set aside and all can enjoy the moment ensemble. The one year old has little to say about it and no recollection of it – the only reminders being the photos taken and shared years later…
From there, it becomes a roll of the dice and where you were born into which culture, family, social circle, or economic circumstance may offer many benefits and advantages or throw up a solid rock wall barrier that must be scaled or tumbled down to move forward… The beauty of life is that though we may believe, for example, that being born financially wealthy is the key to a happy and successful future, we see time and time again, that wealth brings with it its own set of problems and issues that can actually cause great unhappiness, loneliness, and neglect. And on the flip side, being born into a family with a wealth of love and caring but modest financial resources, can lay the foundation for a purposeful and exceedingly abundant life. Transitioning between and among our own personal set of circumstances can be challenging, rewarding, frustrating and oftentimes exhausting, yet we persevere.
And we love to celebrate the “round number” birthdays – maybe with the exception of the American context of turning 21, the age when you are considered fully an adult with the rights and privileges of lawfully consuming alcohol. Strangely enough, by18 you are allowed to smoke cigarettes, serve in the military, vote in local, state and federal elections, and legally engage in many other activities, but having a federally sanctioned martini must wait for three more years. But more on the round numbers.
Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, and so on and so forth if we are fortunate to go on and go forth… Each transition to a new decade of life brings with it new wisdom, insights, learnings, and problems. In our thirties and forties we often deal with finances, romances, and chances to do more, make more, work more, and experience more… These two decades provide ample opportunity for us to run amok with our poor decisions, become workaholics, enter and leave relationships, and burn the candle on both ends. All with youthful joy and energy built on a foundation of maturity we didn’t have in our twenties… Then we reach fifty and look in the mirror at someone whose appearance does not align with the image we hold of ourselves in our minds. The graying and thinning hair, a few more laugh lines around the edges of our eyes, the skin losing some of that angelic radiance and elasticity, another pound here or there… But we work at keeping it all together and in our transition to ‘gulp’ sixty, suddenly we find ourselves in what I call an alternative form of reality in which our bodies have aged but our minds are still stuck in who we were decades earlier. Something akin to cognitive dissonance which they say is good for the brain… hmmm.
All in all, as I think about the next transition to that next “round number” which is, by the way, still soooo distant, I can’t help but wonder if there will be a more harmonious relationship between my mind and my body. I’m pretty sure, though, that it may not change a whole lot. My mother who lived to 93 would always tell me she felt like a twenty-something mind trapped in a ninety-something body. “No one prepares you to be old.” she would always say. So I’m not preparing to be old. I’ll just slide into whatever it is life presents and celebrate the transition.