Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Symmetry of Aging


A few nights ago at dinner, my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia embarked on an intellectual witch hunt with me. For almost an hour she challenged me to come up with a scientific basis for why I believe in energy. I believe that if someone performs an evil act their energy affects others. At the same time, when someone is kind, I believe that their energy spreads.

Lucia asked me how I thought that worked, “from a scientific perspective.” I bullshitted a little bit, talking about how we are all molecules, all connected. But she’s had physics in the last year and for me, it’s been almost forty years so she could throw out more science than I could.

I felt like I had shown up for a job interview in dirty sweats, bad breath, and greasy hair with no idea what the position was. I floundered and made up answers to her questions but the whole time I felt myself sinking deeper into a hole. In the end, I pulled myself together enough to offer a brief synopsis of my perspective. “I believe in universal consciousness and I can’t explain it beyond that. It’s not scientific. It’s spiritual.” And then I got up and cleared the table.

While the dinner table interrogation was happening, one part of my brain was observing the whole scene. I watched as my daughter sat in control and I attempted to claw my way out of this deepening hole. For Lucia’s entire life I have been the expert. But I realized as I watched her schooling me that this was changing before my very eyes. “She’s growing her confidence,” I thought to myself, “she’s more adult than child right now.” We’re closer to each other in our roles right now than we are far away. But that won’t always be the case.

Currently my partner Nancy is in the difficult position of moving her parents into an assisted living facility. Of course, they do not want to go. Who would? But it is imperative for their safety and well-being and Nancy is driving the entire process.

I watch Nancy, now in charge of her parents after so many years of them being in charge of her and I see that my experience with Lucia has tinges of the same shift. There is a symmetry between childhood and old age. Children grow towards adulthood as adults grow toward old age. And between these two endpoints, we all spend years in the middle.

It’s a natural process, the slow climb towards adulthood and slow descent into old age. But we don’t often see the shifts. So often we just move through life not noticing the subtle changes that move us more deeply into the different stages of our lives.

For Nancy now, with her parents, the need for change is drastic. The final shift has been made and she is standing strong in her adulthood as her parents fully transition into old age. She is in control now. She has been growing into this place for decades. She is prepared and capable.

And Lucia is just at the beginning of her adulthood, practicing skills and honing tools so that when the time comes she will be prepared to take on the role of being an adult to her parents in their old age. And if Lucia has children the cycle will continue.

The symmetry of this gives me comfort. Moving into the final stage of old age, we are in so many ways stepping back into childhood. We are letting our children become the parents, surrendering the control that we once had. I watch Nancy’s parents now — letting go of all the hard work they did as adults, all that holding onto the reigns and being in charge — and I see that it is painful.

I felt just a tiny pang of it at dinner the other night. I could see clearly that my role with my daughter was changing. It will continue to change until I too get to that final frontier. I have many years to go before I reach that point but it helps to see the path, to lay it out, and recognize that this is the natural cycle of life. We all start as children and, if we are lucky, end in old age.

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