I first read Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by Hollis when it came out in 2006. Then I felt that I was not yet qualified to comment. Now that I am 50 and a bit more, I return to mull over “(T)he ultimate test of the family is not whether it provides safety and predictability, but whether or to what degree each person can leave it, freely, and return, freely, as a larger person.”In Malaysia, we are celebrating 15 days of the lunar new year beginning January 23, with much ado. Incessant feasting. Daily visiting half a dozen homes of family, friends, colleagues and business associates. Special gatherings (with extraordinary feasts of course) on Days 1, 2, 4, 7, 8-9, and 15. Gaudy adornment of body, homes, offices, shopping malls, buildings, and gifts in bright red. Ear-splitting loud roar of firecrackers bursting along with the pounding drum beats that mark the rhythm for acrobatic lion dancers gaily bringing good luck and prosperity to all. This is the last of four major family-centered celebrations until the next round.
In August 2011, we observed Ramadhan, the Muslim month of daily fasting and reflection on patience, spirituality, humility, and submissiveness to God. Every evening after sunset prayers, Muslims would make the effort to break the fast with family and friends, cementing bonds and healing rifts. Fasting ended in celebration on the first day of Syawal, with family members, followed by a month of thanksgiving meals with close friends, colleagues, and business associates.
In November, we observed five days of Deepavali (aka Diwali), a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, the ‘festival of lights’, by families performing traditional activities together in their homes, and with much food and gaiety with friends.
Christmas and the New Year were also causes for huge celebrations.Five Lessons from Traveling Home
I live along the North-South Expressway. On each of the above occasions, the expressway has been packed with tens of thousands of vehicles moving North and South depending on where Home is. This exodus from the City is not new. A journey of 200 km can take 9 hours, and yet people flock home to their loved ones. Not just the Chinese at Chinese New Year. Not just the Muslims at Eid Al Fitr at the end of Ramadan or the Indians at Deepavali. Not just the Christians at Christmas. Every one with family north or south, east or west of the country joins this exodus. I used to do the 9 hour 200 km in 11 hours too until Mum came to live with me when Dad passed on. Lesson #1: Home is where Mum is, and Mum represents Family. These days I only drive to the neighborhood supermarket during festive holidays
I thought about the reasons for going home in that crazy traffic during these times of celebration. Most return home for filial reasons, some with great joy and expectation, while others go home obligatorily. Robert Frost once said that home is where you go and they have to take you in. I wonder how many go home in hope that family and situations at home will be better this time and have become just as rosy as they dare imagine?
Carl Jung once claimed that the greatest burden the child must bear is the unlived life of the parents, resulting, possibly, in a denial of soul and a risk of passing the same malady to the next generation. I take that to mean that when I try to please my Mum and don’t live my life fully the way I want to, I risk the tendency to foist my unfinished life projects on to my daughter who being taught to be ‘filial’ will suffer the same fate and pass the same to her children. How sad and yet how true. Lesson #2: Live fully for myself and stop recycling pain.
Hollis says that each of us leaves our family twice. The first time, we leave physically at the end of adolescence to explore our destinies, and this is a relatively easy passage. Our second departure from home is psychological and often a separate, more critical and impossible task during the second half of life. No matter how far away we move and how many years pass, we somehow seem to keep the invisible family close at hand through our psychic gestures and patterns. Lesson #3: We can take ourselves out of Family but not take Family out of ourselves.Hollis suggests that we ask ourselves as parents, “How well did the soul (of our child) flourish here?” considering whether we are creating or have created the dilemma of “Please my parents and die within, or live my separate journey, and lose their love.” He terms the breach of trust when we force our values and hopes and dreams on to our children as a form of spiritual violence, causing them to internalize our limiting life patterns. I also read, with rapt attention, Hollis’ description of divorce as “I thought I was to leave home, not home leave me,” and how the deep ache felt at the fracturing of family can create a longing for the wholeness of a safe, stable, and predictable home to belong to. Lesson #4: My child has the right to live her life and not my life.
There are those who do not take full responsibility for their own life journey, choosing to blame their parents (including long departed ones) and others for their foibles. Many are in the sandwich generation category who are raising teenagers and caring for their aged parents at the same time. Both types suffer from unmet developmental needs and tend to experience resentment that they try to hide. Long term repression of resentment becomes manifest in depression, crankiness, and burnout – anger turned inward. The strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link, and so it’s the same with family. A family’s struggles revolve around the least soul-fulfilled parent. Lesson #5: Take charge of personal growth before undertaking responsibility for the growth of others.My Spirit Sees Your Spirit
To create a safe, stable, and predictable family environment, maturity, courage and personal risk are essential to support unconditional love and acceptance of diversity among those whom we call family. I love the word namaste which translates as “the spirit in me sees the spirit in you” – such an exquisite way of soul nurture. In the second half of life, let us strive to break the chain of bondage to our unfulfilled dreams and those of our parents and ancestors. Let us focus on thriving and flourishing with family.
I know of many who are truly happy to be home with family. These happy souls seem to become recharged each time they reconnect with family and synchronize family with their present and future. It would seem that Family supports their living fully – to come and go freely, and become larger persons.
Hollis, J. (2006). Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up. Gotham Books. Includes reference to Carl Jung.
Red lanterns in Kuala Lumpur courtesy of Slices of Light
Lion Dancers courtesy of amasc
Traffic in Kuala Lumpur courtesy of Aldas Kirvaitus
Three Generations courtesy of Aunt Owwee
Namaste courtesy of Louis Vest