This I Believe

Robert - Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Entered on March 27, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: parenthood

Circle of Life

I think I’ve figured out the circle of life. At birth, we start with a clean slate. In childhood, we learn everything. During our teen years, we think we know everything, and others, particularly parents, know nothing. Early adulthood is the time when we test everything we know. As we reach midlife, we realize that almost everything we know is wrong. Then come our senior years, when we no longer realize that almost everything we know is wrong and don’t care. Finally, in old age, we’ve forgotten almost everything we knew, and the slate is clean again. The circle is complete.

Watching infants can be fascinating. Armed with only some pre-programmed instincts, they begin to connect the dots of their surroundings, and express their delight as they figure things out, and dismay as they meet with frustration. Their innocence, though short-lived, brings joy to those around them. To see them develop is rewarding in itself, but helping them balance their successes and failures and not allow either to define their existence, pays dividends as they grow and contribute to society.

As the hormones kick in, and the bodies begin to mature, the minds of children take on an air of independence. They test the limits set by others, and develop a feeling of invincibility. Unfortunately, for some, tempting fate is a losing proposition. Fortunately, for most, they survive, either by luck or by design. Luck is their own, but design is usually in the form of someone else’s guidance or protection.

Young adults begin to take on responsibility, and experience true independence. This new perspective is often quite revealing, and they begin to appreciate the guidance and protection they’ve received throughout their lives. Their parents, who for so many years became stupid, miraculously recover and become smart again. As they become parents themselves, they begin to understand, and yes, even emulate, the parents they swore they’d never be like.

As we reach midlife, we consider whether we’ve made all the right choices and taken advantage of all of the opportunities presented along life’s way. We realize that we haven’t, and try to make up for it while there’s still time. We see reality differently, with less optimism and more pragmatism. We know that the present is the only truly manageable dimension of time; the past cannot be changed; and the future can be planned, but what will be, will be.

In our senior years, complacency sets in and we become more and more intransigent. Intellectual atrophy takes its toll, and we don’t think as deeply anymore or worry as much (at least, not about important things). As we slide into old age, the memories fade and the dots begin to disconnect, and we find ourselves dependent on others to help us balance our successes and failures. Those who help are often the same ones who have a full schedule taking care of children, shouldering their responsibilities, and managing their own lives. But they help willingly, because they are deeply indebted to their elders, who have made so much possible.

So, enjoy and nurture the wonderment of a child. Be patient, yet strong, with a teenager who pushes your buttons, or takes unreasonable risks. Accept responsibility and become independent as soon as you are ready, but you alone are accountable for your actions or inactions. When you start to study the balance sheet of your life, don’t panic; take the time you have left and make a difference. Try hard not to become complacent, and keep your mind sharp by keeping it active. Above all, be thankful for all you have, generous with all you give, and gracious for all you receive. With that, you’ll truly make a difference.