A theory of midlife

"Piglet, I have decided something."
"What have you decided, Pooh?"
"I have decided to catch a Heffalump."
(A.A. Milne)

Readers, I have decided something. (What have you decided, Recollected?) I have decided to embrace the shedding (if that's possible - hm. Release the shedding, maybe?)

It's my newest vision of a Midlife Done Well. I've started to see something, and here's what I think it is.

When we're young and small, lots of stuff can happen to us that might be damaging, might be helpful, or might be neither one. We have very little say about any of it, and it behooves the grownups to make a fence round about the saplings - an enclosure - so that they can grow and become strong enough not to need one.

But here's the deal. After that, after the enclosure has done its work, these beings who were planted within it are the sort of thing that must move and grow and change and suffer and exult and try things and succeed and fail. A lot of living has to happen to these mobile trees - or whatever they are. In my imagination, they look like eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees, walking about like the trees in Tolkein's imagination.

As they (we) grow and age and experience life, the grain and shape under our bark grow into the patterns of our lives and decisions. We do eventually become what we have been becoming.

When we are old, it shows. It shows in our body's posture, and it shows in the lines on our faces, and in the tones of our voices, and in our expectations about what we think is probably coming up next. Some of the old trees may then be found to be, after all, like the downed palms after a hurricane. Some of us turn out to be nothing but fiber and water, and like giant squash on the compost heap, some folks just dry up and disintegrate. These, I think, are folks too dependent on changeable weather conditions.

But others, the ones who've become strong and noble and fine in their age, those trees learn to take root in fertile ground. Like Sporos in Madeleine L'Engle's imagination, we must take root if we are to be free.

It's then - somewhere around midlife - that the trees seem to me to be dropping their bark. Up to now, they've needed this bark. Now it can be allowed to fall to the ground.

It's wonderful stuff, this self-protective bark. It has served its purpose well. It has protected the growth and well-being of the tree through all the previous eras of growth and change. And it is full of marvelous nutrients. When it falls to the ground it makes the surrounding soil fertile and refreshed and renewed. New little trees love the stuff! (Ever see a child with a happy grandparent?)

While we're younger - still looking for the soil in which we might take root - we need that bark. We have to weather the things that could destroy our inner selves if they were allowed to invade us. But once we're old enough to take root, we can let go of it. We no longer need to defend ourselves against the storms and chances and changes of this mortal life.

And under the bark sometimes we find a breathtaking beauty.


Francesca said...

Oh! You suddenly reminded me of a passage in a book that I've been fond of for decades -- Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.

In it, one of the characters is a none-too-likable lad who discovers a dragon's lair and treasure. Coveting it all for himself, he slips a bracelet onto his arm and falls asleep on the treasure. Upon awakening a while later he discovers that he has become a dragon himself!

And the only way to become a boy again is to remove all the old, ugly dragon scales -- a process, by the way, that he cannot successfully do by himself. He must let Aslan do it for him.

And Aslan does -- with claws so deep and painful that the poor dragonboy fears he'll be torn into shreds the next instant. But what emerges is perfectly pink and healthy little boy skin....and a deeply significant lesson learned.

Although in C. S. Lewis' story there is no use for the old dragon scales, I do like your analogy of the bark nourishing the ground around the trees. I think in God's economy of time, all stages of our lives are constructive and valuable for our edification and others'.

Anonymous said...

Beavers like to chop down all the sweet young saplings within closest range to their damns or lodges. If you live by a beaver pond and want to watch some pretty birch trees grow up near the waters' edge you have to put chicken wire around them until they get large enough that the beavers will leave them alone. Oh...the ugly black spruce saplings aren't in danger, it is just the sweet young birch you have to protect for the beavers always go for the sweet young things. Best get some chicken wire. But don't forget to remove the wire when the trees get big enough to stand on their own...or that wire will actually stifle their growth. Beavers...life is full of them. But there is a time to ditch the chicken wire. I think I can ditch mine. No beaver is going to knock me down now. Mid-life? Lovin' it!