Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly
This may not be anything new or startling, but after some reflection the following is my takeaway from last night’s conversation in Men’s Group.
There are at least three distinct phases of life: childhood, adulthood, and eldership. Each of these has an overriding quality or role—play, responsibility, and wisdom, respectively. I must quickly add that the primary quality of each phase is not to the exclusion of the other two. Moreover, the inclusion of the other two qualities is an essential ingredient to living a balanced life.
We must vacate one phase and move to the next, not only for our personal evolution and satisfaction, but also to create the space into which the next generation may grow. In addition, as we inhabit each succeeding phase we provide models for our children. When we model responsibility as adults, were we not to demonstrate balance by exhibiting childlike playfulness or elder-like wisdom, we would be giving them an incomplete picture. We might even be discouraging them from moving into adulthood were we not to show that it is more than keeping the roof over their heads and driving them to the orthodontist. As we demonstrate the balance that is part of adulthood we also give them the message that their days as children need similar balance including a modicum of responsibility and wisdom in addition to their primary role of play. And on it goes in each successive phase.
When Greg comments, “It seems Rilke is suggesting that we must go out to that church in the East while our children are young.” I say, “Yes, we must seek that wisdom, but without abdicating the responsibility that is demanded of us at that time.” And we must continue to be responsible as we become sages. And we must be playful in each of those parts of our lives. And our children must — better, they get to—continue to be playful and wise as they mature into being responsible adults. When we fail to move along this continuum, when we fail to exercise balance by including aspects of each phase in our lives, we lose the full breadth, beauty, and blessings that the span of our years provides.