Ron Rolheiser explains that the first half of our lives begins with birth, the most traumatic transition of our lives. “We are fired into this life with madness” – Ron says that being fired into life implies an energy bringing us into the world. We are born in complete need from the time the umbilical cord is cut; we are in need of others. All our needs in the youngest part of life are completely dependent upon others who will feed, clothe, love and care for us.
As we age we are constantly looking for ways to connect with others. We are seeking our own identity through our successes and achievements. These experiences build our self worth. We are often fighting to be right in the first half of life because then we feel confident in what we believe. When we hit puberty everything shifts. Our needs, desires and ideas change because of our sexuality. Ron says that from puberty until about age 50 or 60 we are trying to find our way back home. Home being the place we were before puberty.
In the 2nd half of life Ron discusses the generative years of life. The generative years are when we as adults are life giving. The first half of life we are taking and the second we are giving. At this point in life we have found a spouse, a career and we have children. We learn to live our lives selflessly.
We continue to have our identity defined by our achievements: we are now parents, workers and merely Mom or Dad now. Ron also refers to these years as our household years. Everything revolves around our children and paying the mortgage. As parents we have this idea that we raise our children but in a deeper reality they are raising us to a new level of maturity and selfless love.
At some point during the latter half of this portion of life we look at our spouses and decide to love them forever, the falling is over and the commitment begins. As is with the rest of our life, we are choosing value over pleasure. Our perspective has changed and matured.
At this stage of life the struggles we face are not with sexuality, by now that is integrated with our identity and tamed. We struggle with boredom. For years as parents we do the same tasks over and over again. Towards the end of this time frame our children grow up and leave and we come to a new discovery in life. Life changes once again and we have more choices to make.
Ron discusses in the conclusion of Spirituality and the Two Halves of life the last part of the spiritual journey. At this point we are no longer the child dependent upon others to meet our every need. We are no longer in the generative years of our lives giving selflessly to our children and loved ones. Now we have time to look at our life and decide what we will choose to be for the rest of our dwelling here on earth.
The choices Ron refers to are very familiar in my own life. The first choice is the “Pathetic Old Fool”. That is the person who wants to go back and do it all over again. Many times this is reflected in a midlife crisis. He gets a new wife, has new kids and gets a new job. This is pathetic because he has already lived this stage of life and he chooses not to mature beyond it. The next choice I have seen up close is that of the “Embittered Old Fool”. This is the person who is angry with the world. The world was unfair to them. Their children and grandchildren don’t visit them and their life was a waste. I know older people like this who just seem to hate their lives. They are angry and bitter. They suck the life out of the room when they enter it. Many older people think they do not choose this role but that their life has put it on them. Nursing homes are filled with these angry people. The third old fool is the “Holy Old Fool”. This person accepts and walks the spiritual journey. This person holds no anger or resentment. This person is looking for every opportunity to turn his life over to God. This person brings energy, light and life into every room they enter.
In this stage of life there are a few more struggles; letting go of all possessions and attachments, overcoming being neurotic and self absorbed and learning to forgive. The biggest and last blockage to heaven is forgiveness.
Ron discusses purgatory as the pain of entering heaven. He says purgatory is not a punishment but a time to learn to detach from this world and to say goodbye to your loved ones and to place your life in God’s arms for eternity. He says that heaven is not paradise until you can let go. The most radical of disciples experience this separation on earth. He noted an example from St. John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul; The older couple that has been faithful and committed to God for 30 or 40 years and is ready to completely trust in God.
This couple hears God through the scriptures, sells all they have, says good bye to their family and normal life and moves away to be missionaries for the remainder of their lives. They have already detached from life. They have lived through their purgatory here on earth and are ready to go straight to the paradise of heaven. Ron also is very quick to point out that the 20 year old that wants to do the same will not have the same experience. The younger person will get this experience mixed up with their ego and self identity. He believes the foundation should already be built before one can fall off the edge certain that God will catch them. That is the radical disciple.
Ron makes good points about the stages of life and how through our aging we mature and grow closer to God and heaven on this spiritual journey.