Wednesday, March 17, 2010

learning and unlearning

Though we moved a lot when I was young, I essentially grew up in the eastern half of the U.S. Which means I grew up knowing that the tides came and went like clockwork, you could always find your way out of the forest by knowing the moss grows on the north side of the tree, and that grass is always green in the summer and brown in the winter.

So it was shocking, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, to learn that none of these things were true in my new environment. Here the tides are irregular, with the higher tides occurring during the day in winter, and the lower tides during the day in summer. The moss grows ALL OVER the trees -- and (as you see here) is particularly lush in springtime -- and grass -- unless you water it, tends to be brown in the summer and then grow green again in the winter rains.

Encouraged by a friend for whom the book was a life-changer, I am continuing to read Transitions, and I was particularly struck this morning by this passage:

"The force of life's two great developmental shifts fans out over the course of a lifetime: The first involves an end to old dependencies and the establishment of the person as a separate social entity; the second involves movement beyond that separateness to something more complex, to a deeper sense of interrelatedness. The middle third of life is characterized by a mixture of these two influences."

Which means, of course, that a lot of things we worked hard to learn when we were growing up -- as part of the separation process -- we spend our latter years unlearning as we move toward a greater understanding of our connectedness with all that is. And now I'm wondering if the process of unlearning and discarding might not be easier for those of us who have already had the ground beneath our feet shaken and stirred. If those truths we thought of as facts growing up -- simple things, like moss growing on the north side of trees, or more complex things, like "my father loves me and is an honorable man" -- are turned upside down by events in our lives, it becomes easier for us to question the other assumptions of our youth.

Perhaps that explains why someone like my father-in-law, who married and moved shortly after college and has remained in the same town for the last 60 years, persists in sending me ridiculous and occasionally offensive diatribes against the democrats and Obama. (The most recent was a photograph of Jimmy Carter with a blurb underneath saying, "Finally, I won't be the worst president in US history!") To me, whatever mistakes he may have been making, Obama represents an attempt to move toward a more global understanding of unity. But of course the idea of unity would be terribly threatening to anyone who has spent a lifetime establishing a sense of tribalness, and separation.

The next step in the book is to look at the event or events surrounding or defining what we think of as the end of childhood, and to examine how those events and the issues around them might be mirrored later on in life as we move back toward unity. Which should be interesting -- and I'm also intrigued by the idea that these two opposing movements are BOTH occurring in that middle third of life: it helps make sense of a lot of the challenges we face in those middle years.

More opportunities to explore and understand -- and it's all good!

PS: Just to clarify: Despite our political differences, my father-in-law loves me dearly and is a truly honorable man; it was my own father whose choices in the latter years of his life turned my world upside down and forced me to question all my childhood assumptions. It was a very difficult time, but I see now -- again -- that it was all good.


Katherine W. said...

Wait, so it's true in some places, that moss actually grows on only the north side of trees?
When I was little I heard that from teachers and books, but I always dismissed it as a faulty old wive's tale.
Shows what I know =P Even now, not quite a quarter of the way through a century of life I suppose I am starting to learn that interrelatedness!

Maureen said...

You, too?

I get those so-called ha-ha's from my own father-in-law. The nicest thing about them is their ability to be deleted.

Glad to know there's a bastion of sanity in the Pacific Northwest!


I'll amen Maureen's note about being "glad to know, etc."!!

The learning and unlearning has been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a teeny town and really thought life was "like that." I thought girls did girl jobs and boys did boy jobs, you know the "that's the way it's supposed to be" idea of learning. I hated all the things my family hated...I could go on but I give thanks a lot for the growth somewhere in my life that has taken me to where I am today in my compassion for others, my strong stand on certain issues that I will voice even in the face of "friendly folks" telling me I'm all wrong - I was taught that "girls listen and learn".....well, apparently I listened really well somewhere in my life and I'm so happy to have unlearned so much and hope that I'm still unlearning and, best of all learning new and wonderful things about people, about this world, this nation, this creation that we live in - wow, you got me goin'!!!