Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Growth is the only Evidence of Life" J.H. Newman

Growing Up

Growing up is always hard to do. That we grow is a law of nature. Newman once said that “growth is the only evidence of life” but I cannot remember where he said this. Growth involves change and change involves pain. We’ve all heard of growing pains. A son of a good friend of mine who has really put on a great spurt of growth recently had to attend the doctor with “growing pains,” which the doctor pointed out was all part of nature.

I suppose our spiritual or psychic or mental life mirrors this physical growth. However, modern medicine and modern psychology would not make such a bold split between mind and body as did Descartes. Rather it sees some sort of complex interrelationship between them both. Some modern scholars talk about the body-mind – especially scholars in the area of psychotherapy and meditation.

I have always liked metaphors. Concepts were enabled to my mind by the forging of metaphors, by the pushing further (the “meta” part of the word) of the signs and symbols of language (the “-phor” or “phorein”{Greek for sign} part of the word!), often forging abstract thought out of concrete images. I intend to write a little about this metaphorical drive within language at a later time. The metaphor I’d like to use here with respect to this particular post is that of the “onion.” I think the growth of the personality may be likened to growing extra layers as we progress throughout life. This links in with the PAC theory of Transactional Analysis nicely – as outlined in the book The Games People Play by Dr. Eric Beirne. Then I’m reminded of another famous metaphor in the form of a paradox by the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth and this goes: “The child is father of the man.” This line occurs in the following beautiful little poem:


My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Wordsworth's sentiment is a poetic statement of an otherwise commonplace observation: what you are, and feel, and think, and believe as a child creates a path you will take into adulthood. Even more than this, the adult I now am I have built upon the child that I was. Also the adult I now am I have built upon the adolescent I was and so on up until old age. We never really do stop growing.

And so we grow and change and develop. And all of this is attended by varying amounts of growth pain (natural), “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (all the unwanted and unlooked-for accidents, natural disasters of all kinds, “acts of God” as Insurance Policies like to call these latter), the making of mistakes, and boy, don’t we all make them. We make mistakes at work, at home and even on the way between the two. We make mistakes with our friends, not alone our enemies. We also make mistakes with those whom we love. There is an interesting line of a song which goes: “you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” Google tells me that Willie Nelson and The Mills Brothers sang this song. There’s a lot of truth in this simple lyric. To let people close to us means we both hurt them and are hurt by them. Such is life, but we have to be open to recognising our faults, apologising for them and moving on. Forgiveness is as important in the life of the “forgiver” as it is for the life of the “forgiven.” However, it takes strength of character to look at ourselves. Often we have to take the criticism of others on the chin, especially if they are sincere about it. The Dalai Lama tells us that often times our enemies are better for us than our friends, because we can learn more from them. That is very true if painful.

There have been times in all our lives when we have hurt the ones we love. As we go on in life we try to make amends as best we can. Life is difficult, we all know that. Like St Augustine once said let’s make a hospital of this world of ours and try to heal as many people as we can. I am reminded also of the words of the great Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde. To meditate upon that ballad is very good for the soul indeed. One cannot doubt how much Oscar suffered in prison and in his life thereafter. His words can cut to the core at times. They are words that resonate with the above words of the song sung by Willie Nelson. I loved this poem ever since I first read it in an anthology by the Christian Brothers at school. Here are three consecutive verses on love and the price paid for it:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

Obviously Oscar is stretching language by metaphor here. For all the lovely things I’ve killed I’m sorry. Like Oscar’s famous character in The Picture of Dorian Grey one often feels like running along the roof tops and shouting “forgive me” to the world! Even if those hurt don’t hear, at least you’ve made the effort. No one ever promised that growing up was easy or even that we’d ever be “really grown up!” Does that rare state even exist?

Above I've placed a picture of the first snowdrops in my garden, early February 2007. They are at the height of their growth before being killed off by winds and frosts etc. Such is the ultimate price of growth. Maybe we're all just part of this eternal cycle of life?

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