Point of entry
From the Saturn return at 29-30 onwards, the major underlying task changes: from discovering the overall shape of who you are in relation to your own life, to beginning to use the platform you have built as support in offering your unique contribution to the wider world.
By this stage, the balance achieved between necessary realism and the joyous, inspirational, creative aspects of life is crucial to how the next 15 years unfold. The poet Dylan Thomas senses and honours the presence of the child he was, in his marvellous
“Poem in October”, written on his thirtieth birthday:
“ And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s forgotten mornings……where a boy…..whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”
In the poem’s last verse, he writes
“And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.” (iv)
For Dylan Thomas, as for many poets and even more of us ordinary citizens, being in nature can powerfully evoke that within us which never ages, which rejoices in being alive, and is powerfully connected to the endless cycle of birth, maturation, decline, death and return.
The thirties and forties are decades where a major challenge lies in the grinding process of reality testing our hopes, wishes, dreams and ambitions against the world as it is. Most of us eventually get to the Saturn opposition of the mid-forties: we are still here, we may still be functioning tolerably well, but we’re not young any more.
From the mid-forties on, we only have to look in the mirror, or realise that our idea of a good Friday night is increasingly of going to bed early, not with a hot lover, but with a good book, to be aware of the relentless advance of mortality
It becomes harder at this stage for most people to keep in touch with the Joyful Child, keep its energies flowing. For many people, brutalities of an environmental, political, social or personal nature have borne down so hard that the vital spark of life borne by the Joyful Child can now fuel only the dogged survival instinct.
I have found that one of the compensations of middle age is deeply paradoxical, and was first alerted to it a few years ago by a comment made by my late mother-in-law, then approaching eighty. The way she dealt with an old age full of physical infirmity was inspiring. She had a lively sense of fun and humour, maintained great interest in the wider world as well as that of her own family and friends, and kept up a prodigious correspondence right up to the end of her life.
The Joyful Child in her was alive right to the end, sustained in her case by a strong, ecumenical religious faith. “You know”, she said,“occasionally when I’m not thinking about anything in particular, I catch sight of my face in the mirror and get an awful shock. I see an old woman’s face looking out at me – but inside I don’t feel old at all – I feel just the same as I did when I was young.”
The paradox is this. The body ages to the point where you are faced with increasing physical evidence of the passage of time; but an opportunity can also slowly arise to perceive, with a clarity not possible in youth, that this aging body has been carrying something else through life which is different, ageless, separate from the physical – that spark of immortality which comes in sometime before birth, flying free at physical death.
Thus, as mortality’s approach becomes more and more difficult to ignore, a major compensation can be offered by that which is clearly immortal becoming more and more evident by contrast.
Midlife can be a depressing time. Vitality declines, children have either flown the nest and you miss them, or have their own problems which can bring yet more responsibility to you at a stage in life where you are tired of being responsible. Careers can pall. Dear friends die. You realise how fleeting life is, and how little of it you have left. But as always, there are choices. The paradox noted above brings a great opportunity for reorientation and renewal.
Increasing trust in the immortal spark within, that Joyful Child which has survived the batterings of life and still retains a sense of the importance of making a creative response, can strengthen existing belief that life continues in some form when the body dies – or help that belief to grow.
I would like to conclude this essay by returning to what I have called the Otherworld, that magical domain which is the natural habitat of the Joyful Child. Its importance was highlighted in the 18 March (2000 – AW) copy of the magazine The Week, where Jolyon Connell was writing about a current “golden age for children’s fiction” with reference to an article by S.F. Said. (v). The success of current children’s authors led by Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling, “owes much to the way they appeal to grown-ups as well as children – and not just for nostalgic reasons.” .
Connell’s observation a decade ago is still very much relevant now. He observed that in those writers one finds good old-fashioned storytelling, strong plots, and that quality which is present in all the best children’s books, but often missing in adult ones, ie a sense of wonder, of “being alive to the world.”
He concluded by putting forward Said’s view that many adult readers to their own children are discovering afresh, through the works of Dahl and Rowling, what great writers have always known: children’s stories can touch “those parts of us that haven’t yet become bored, damaged or embarrassed by existence – and can help those parts that have.”
A prescription for helping to keep the Joyful Child alive ? Go and read the Harry Potter books…….. ! Then go check out the latest of the movie series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” – currently breaking box office records across the world.
(iv) “ Poem in October “ from Dylan Thomas Collected Poems 1934-52, Aldine Press, 1972 Edition, pp 96-7
(v) in The Daily Telegraph, week beginning 13 March 2000. Quoted in The Week, 18 March 2000, p 3.
To read the first two parts of the Joyful Child series, CLICK below:
1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
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