When I was an adolescent I was heavy into reading science fiction. One of my favorite books, at that time, was written by Isaac Asimov and entitled Childhood’s End. Now that I think about it, the ending of the book, which I think represented the end of our species childhood, portrayed new humans, a bunch of teenagers, destroying the Earth, and all living things, with what amounted to superpowers. The book ended with them going on into the Universe. I never quite understood then why that book spoke to me, but here I am, years later, recalling how it accompanied my own childhood’s ending.
The idea that I might look at the period of transition that accompanied my move from adulthood into something else came from Dr. Bill Thomas. He called it the end of adulthood, and I picked up on his thought and added thoughts of my own. Out of that combination comes Adulthood’s End.
For me, adulthood ended dramatically and clearly in a single surge of blood. I had a hemorrhagic stroke that delivered me into a new post-adult world. For me, being so thoroughly disabled, had the same effect as moving me from the world of the productive and efficient, into a slower world. I am not who I used to be. I had to learn a new value system, and a new way of operating, to be able to survive and occupy a very different life. It has been a difficult transition, it took most of 10 years, and it has resulted in me being happier, and more productive in a community way, than I’ve ever been.
I have a reason, because of my own bizarre unaided journey, to think much of the same thing is in store for my age-mates. Adulthood, with its many distorted pursuits, lack of time, and role-bound identity, is ending. The freedom to become oneself, to determine for oneself what that means, is finally, and unbelievably, here. To live anew will likely be hard. Adulthood’s end has been portrayed, by our cultural beliefs, to be the end. So, going beyond this place takes unusual courage, and an almost rabid desire to live fully. Culturally, ageism is heavy, but if those shackles and blinders can be broken, then another phase of Life comes into view. And it happens when adulthood ends.
There are many benefits that come with a new, slower life. The life of the elder is full of surprises. Perhaps, the greatest surprise of all; is that this new life isn’t all about decline. That, is a cultural assertion that is just plain inaccurate, reflecting as it does youth-centered ignorance (the way adulthood is defined).
But, this piece is not about the many pleasant surprises that come with ageing, it is rather an attempt to focus attention upon the difficult period when adulthood ends. Human life has (at least) three stages. The one at the end is even more valuable than the one at the beginning. Integration takes place then, and a human being then manifests its full potential. But getting there is now very hard. There really isn’t a meaningful and truly productive finishing school for more-than-adults. There isn’t a term for the potency of this stage, a potency that carries real knowledge of how important and beneficial this period is, for the individual and society. Adulthood’s end could be cause for celebration. Retirement parties are sad reminders of the waste that is endemic now. Adulthood’s end marks a new beginning that overflows with meaning, relationship, awareness, and spiritual profundity. It is a time of ripening, of fullness, of completion, of wisdom, when possibilities are actualized.
Adulthood never ends in this culture, instead one just drops off the edge of the world, it is supposed that one greys and wrinkles into oblivion. The image of oblivion, that accompanies ageing, reflects the obliviousness that runs rampant in our immature culture.
Adulthood’s end is difficult to face. As are most of the stage-changes that come with Life, but it is made even more difficult, for some impossible, by our societal unwillingness to face it. Think about that, next time you hear of the anti-aging benefits of some cosmetic. Adulthood’s end can be delayed, even ignored entirely, if the culture as a whole (or sufficiently) is willing to stick its head in the sand.
Bill Thomas talks about the iron law. Each day, no matter what, we wake up a day older than we used to be. There is an inevitability, to the way things are. Time waits for no one. Adulthood ends. The stage beyond it; isn’t all about economic activity, but it has a value that isn’t widely valued today. The transition can be difficult, and is being made more difficult all the time, but it is important to know adulthood ends anyway.
Adulthood’s end just might be the place where a real beginning resides.