When my friend started giving me books about Buddhism, I became irritated. Building on past experience, I knew that there was something there for me to learn. The stronger my irritation the more valuable the lessons were. Writings by Pema Chodrun were especially helpful.
Several years ago, when I was forced to retire, a friend reached out to me with this poem. I sort of knew then that huge life challenges give us a chance to grow – to learn – to become closer to our souls, more powerful, happier, wiser… It turned out to be true then, and true again when I got prostate cancer (What in the world is the right word for that? I didn’t go out and ‘get’ anything – I developed? I became ill?).
I am turning 75 this year – another opportunity – and I feel incredibly lucky.
So….I hope that men reading this who are facing illness, change, aging will find what is written here helpful. Men have been taught to be strong and silent, which is admirable. BUT older men suicide more often than any other group, and the rate for men with prostate cancer is even higher.
You may feel you are finished. But you are not.
I just finished today a wonderful book by authors Jim Horton and Don Bowak called Marking Life Stages which describes how New Zealanders offer opportunities for their young people to engage in safe and secure rituals that assist them in their transition from being children to being adults. They describe a thoughtful and intentional process wherein parents, guides and elders lead young people through their passage from childhood to adulthood.
We all have many transition points in our lives – going to school, graduation, first drink, first kiss, first job, marriage, – that powerfully influence the rest of our lives.
Shooting a coyote on my fathers farm was one of those transition points for me. It may be the reason that I never became a hunter. The coyote was not harming me or our farm. In fact, he had followed me for several days as I cultivated the field.
I never told anyone about what I had done. In hindsight, I wish I had talked about it with someone older and wiser. But I did not.
Now that I am old, it occurs to me that in our society, we do not place enough attention on having rites of passage, for our children, but also for men and women my age. A retirement party, some speeches and off we go. I used to think that adolescence was the most challenging time of a person’s life. But now, the data says that older men have the highest rates of suicide. And in the subset of men with prostate cancer the rate is higher still.
I am interested in developing ways that elders can assist children grow into adults as well developing ways that we older people can assume more elder roles in our communities
I think we need to talk about this. A lot.