Half and Half
By JIM NICHOLS
The two people do not know one another and are different in many ways. On the other hand, each of them occupies a similar position in my mind and both elicit my clear admiration. They are also good illustrations of what Richard Rohr writes of when he talks about the “first and second halves” of life. This concept has been meaningful to many (including me) and it lurks behind much of what I think and observe in others.
These people are about the same age, and neither would consider themselves “young.” They probably would be more comfortable with the description of being “nearly worn out.” That would be more of a physical description than an emotional or spiritual one. That is, despite accumulating years in the first half of life (as Rohr describes), they are now in a clearly different stage of life. This second half for each is a period of much different concerns than earlier.
During the first half, they were like many of the rest of us. Each had a positive childhood and felt safe and cared for. As teenagers, however, events and behaviors outside their control spun their lives from safety to disruption, if not danger. People they depended on left them with few moorings and they were set to continue with personal resources undeveloped.
Since our first tasks in life involve establishing our identity, their early lives presented challenges and mis-directions. For many of us our early lives focus on getting an education and developing skills to survive financially. This takes guidance, something these two lacked. What does it mean to have a mortgage or to manage credit cards? How does one choose friends that are valuable to our growth? When we are younger, we are surrounded by traditions and laws that we ourselves did not develop. We question some of that as we seek to build a personal structure that is appropriate for us. We wrestle with our response to authority, and we sometimes make decisions that are destructive to ourselves and others. These two “came of age” functioning mostly as individuals, or perhaps with negative influences and guidance.
During the first half of life, Rohr suggests that we are building our “container.” During the second half we are growing to find the appropriate contents for that container.
The two people of concern here, admittedly, built some rather shabby containers during their early life. The containers had leaks and toxic substances, attitudes, and decisions. If their stories had ended there, their lives would have been deemed by many as unfruitful and unhappy.
As a matter of fact, many individuals do end their journey after the first half. Somehow, they accept their lot and remain in a state where “it is all about me.” Furthermore, “all about me” is quite miserable. They have spent so much time and emotional energy building their container and had so little guidance in building, that they are left with a lack of reasonable goals and diminished skills as to how to achieve or change them. They just want to survive.
Others, however, are successful in recognizing the truth of their situation. At the risk of sounding overly religious, I suggest that in some perhaps undefinable ways, God and God’s grace has crept into their lives.
Since I did not know these two particularly well as they were building their containers, how and when this started and has continued is mysterious. The results, however, are clear.
Their original containers focused on ego questions. Neither of these two seems directed in that way now. Both seem to have recognized the failings of their first half containers and have embarked on a journey to do something quite difficult—to improve and polish their containers and make them more functional for good. Rather than concentrating on their ego, they have switched to noting their souls.
Both still have plenty of problems, but they are clearly survivors in God’s kingdom. They may not even recognize how they got here, but both are functioning followers who demonstrate patience, love, and compassion.
I wrote at the beginning that I have deep admiration for these as well as others who have made this journey. Perhaps you know some who inspire you in the same way.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain
I really appreciate this piece. I seem to spend a lot of time in the same areas of thought that you do. I truly want my container and its contents to fulfill God’s purpose.