“None of us can know much about second-half-of-life spirituality as long as we are still trying to create the family, the parenting the security, the order, the pride that we were not given in the first half.” Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, p. 42
I have many unmet needs from the first half of life: pride, parenting, role modeling, career success, order, you name it.
And then Barry got cancer and everything changed. Suddenly life was all about wills, advance directives, final arrangements, and that kind of thing. I figured I would need an education for after Barry died…and then got a questionable mammogram myself. My assumption that I would outlive Barry was gone. Eventually, I got a normal mammogram, but it didn’t have the power to reinstate the old assumption.
I feel humiliated by life. Few of my goals or hopes have come to pass and now it feels too late. Right now, nothing is even about me.
Even after Barry dies (if he goes before me), how do I care about a career? How do I pretend it matters to me anymore? The unmet needs go nowhere, following me around with no promise of eventual fulfillment. I can try acting like these needs don’t matter, but I suspect my lack of aggression getting these needs met is precisely why they never got met in the first place. I didn’t place enough emphasis on what I wanted or cared about when I was younger and now it may be too late. I do not have the satisfaction of a life well-lived.
I told Barry yesterday about the lump on his neck. I’ve been watching it for a few months and it is not shrinking. I thought, “Maybe it’s not cancer. Maybe it’s just enlarged lymph nodes.” A few days ago, I remembered what the surgeon said after the tumorectomy: he removed the tumor, sliced a large nerve on that side of the neck, and removed a bunch of lymph nodes. I am uncertain Barry has lymph nodes on the right side of his neck anymore. Even if he has one or two nodes, having permanently swollen nodes is not a good sign. But it’s not like we would treat anyhow. I told Barry because I got tired of wondering if he noticed and of carrying the burden of this alone.
I may be becoming the angry, bitter type of person Rohr warns about. Being conscious of my unmet needs (from the sheer grief I feel regarding my life) doesn’t magically fix things. The downside of awareness is that it is not necessarily empowering to address the issues. The upside of awareness is that I no longer waste time and energy on people, relationships, and organizations that make promises they have zero ability to keep. To not waste time is always a good thing.
“A circle of trust may lack size, scope, and continuity as compared to a traditional community. But it makes up for what it lacks by being intentional about its life—about why we are together, about where we want to go, and about how we must relate to each other if we are to reach our destination….[I]n a circle of trust, I often hear participants say, ‘What goes on here is what I had hoped my religious community would be like.’” A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer, pages 74-75
This past week, I mentioned to someone that, in my early twenties, I probably would have done drugs had I ever found any that actually made me feel better. Someone present said, “I was into spirituality back then.” She always has to one-up me, not very flattering. But she had a point and what she did (pursue spirituality), I basically attempted to do through religion.
I saw my brothers do drugs and alcohol and didn’t want to deal with the legal and physical consequences they were seeing. I craved security and predictability. I “found Jesus.” I now see that my religious experiences were invariably about my emotional needs. It was entirely narcissistic, but subconsciously so. I had needs my family did not meet (who doesn’t?) and church fulfilled those needs for years.
Today I am pushing 50 and value authenticity and honesty more than legality and even physical health. My brothers were idiots. No question. But they were honest idiots. Their legal issues and physical problems were come by honestly. Today, I would rather be a horrible, evil, and honest person than be the nice person I tried to be so long ago. To be thrown in jail for expressing my authenticity would be far more real than the life I have been living.
What hurts me today is the time I wasted trying to be “good” and survive emotionally. My life is more than half over (I really don’t want to live to be 96) and my true self, if it exists, has never seen the light of day.
What consciousness and intentionality do is to compress and make infinitely more efficient the learning process. All the niceties are history. All that’s left is what has to happen to meet people’s needs. When the hierarchical stupidity and bureaucratic nonsense is removed from the equation, humans can genuinely get their needs met! What a concept!
I’ve seen this concept at work in other areas of my life, too. Just ten minutes of deliberate, conscious, intentional action trumps a decade of thinking about maybe doing something at a later date.
The challenge is to make those unmet needs conscious, which I will address in probably my next post.