Call it by whatever name you will, life has its seasons. Shakespeare famously visited this theme in his “seven ages of man” speech, given by melancholy Jaques in As You Like It. It’s the monologue that begins with “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” The remaining lines follow life from infancy to death, which, to me, seem the connecting points in one vast and continuous loop of existence.
Can’t we talk about something less grim, like Helena’s “bear” monologue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
No surprise you prefer those speeches, Lily, since they concern your season of life. Worries about a boy, why he loves another girl and not you. It’s a season as old as time.
Who said anything about a boy? I am totally embarrassed.
Don’t worry about boys, Lily, they’re just weird.
You and Lily are fairly close in age, 9, but far apart in seasons. What’s on your mind right now?
What to have for an after-school snack. And I wonder how long I can go without practicing the piano and cleaning my room.
Life’s critical events tend to shift as we move through the decades. Beginnings of college and first jobs, first apartments, the first serious romance happen for many in their late teens and early 20s.
This past year I’ve become acquainted with a few people in their mid-20s to early 30s, from dance instructors to doctors. Hearing about the important events in their lives, it’s easy to see their season is a time of weddings and babies, theirs or their friends’. For the more prosperous there is home buying and taking on a mortgage. They may even begin tucking away funds for college for their children or their own retirement.
When you enter your 40s and 50s there’s another shift. Job burnout? Divorce? The discontent of mid-life crisis? The purchase of things and pursuit of activities that will turn back the clock of your life to simpler times and fewer responsibilities. Or perhaps your luck runs toward the positive, to finding your empty nest a fun place to be with your spouse of many years, to travel, to take on a meaningful volunteer role in your community as well as your work and family.
About 10 years ago an older friend of mine was experiencing a period when people dear to her were dying with great frequency. She said she and her husband sometimes attended multiple funerals in a single week. I remember feeling sad for her, for losing so many friends and associates. It was a time of life I was hearing about more and more.
Suddenly, here I am, at that time of life when dear friends are seemingly dropping like flies. Extraordinarily dear flies. Wonderful friends who shared decades of happy experiences. The kind of friends that don’t grow on trees. The kind of friends that leave me without the power of words that will carry me past clichés.
It is in preparation for this time, I think, that we live the seasons before it. The babies that enter our lives as grandchildren, or great-nieces and nephews, remind us that life continues. The struggles of younger generations stir our empathy but also conjure melancholy-tinged smiles, remembering that we made it through and that, in retrospect, those times of trial were some of the best in our lives.
That must be true of this new season, a season that sometimes seems composed entirely of loss. Everything that came for us before- -new lives, new dreams, new opportunities- -are happening right now for the younger generations. The loop of life’s seasons is continuous and all of us, regardless of age, are still part of that loop. Look up, look out: many dear and long-time friends are still here. Many joys, opportunities and new experiences are still on the horizon.
In his novel Klara and the Sun, author Kazuo Ishiguro concludes that what makes each of us unique and inimitable is the way others feel about us, how we are loved. That, I think, is why it hurts so much when we lose someone dear. Our feelings for them is the one season that never ends.