I have been reflecting on my life so far and how I would have liked to have developed a closer, more mature relationship with my parents and to have found out more about them and the stories of their lives, about which I sadly know all too little.
This is an experience common to many of us, I hear it all the time. So why does this happen?
My explanation takes the form of a metaphor.
Each of us is like an astronaut in our rocket. We blast off into life, snug in our nose-cone, fuelled by vast resources of energy and enthusiasm. Our eyes are firmly fixed upwards, focused on bursting free of Earth’s constraints, the gravitational tug of family and place, our contextual selves, who we are as defined by our upbringing and our surroundings. We want to punch through Earth’s atmosphere, aim for the stars on our life’s trajectory, our journey of discovery.
Our experience is almost exclusively self-referential: who am I, what do I see, how do I feel, how do I pilot this craft of “Self” to achieve maximum fulfilment.
It’s a rocky ride, especially in the early stages. Things can malfunction, some tragically fail to achieve lift-off or to make it past the first few thousand feet. We must jettison redundant ideas and aspects of ourselves as we travel higher into more rarefied air.
Fear and exhilaration flood our senses in equal measure as nature’s forces buffet our fragile capsule. We wonder if we’re going to make it – we look through our tiny windows at other rockets powering up alongside and wonder how their occupants feel. Are they travelling faster? Are they stronger? Are they afraid? It’s hard to tell, since everything is totally new to us and we’re pre-occupied with working out how we feel about our experiences.
There are controls for the craft but no manual for life. It’s going to take all our concentration, skill and training to manage the ride and ourselves.
That part of our journey can take twenty to thirty years.
Eventually, we reach our geostationary orbit. The violent thrust of youth has passed. By now, reasonably experienced pilots, we can turn our attention to purpose and meaning: we might be docking with a Space Station, becoming part of a team, doing space-walks, testing the boundaries of life in space; we might be repairing or updating satellites and powerful telescopes; we may be gathering data on cosmic rays, weather patterns, micro-meteors or trialling new technology.
All that can absorb us for another ten or twenty years.
About that time, we begin to reflect on where we came from. We gaze back at Earth, home.
We think about the journey we’ve made so far, family and friends who made it possible and we wonder how they are.
We have reached the point in life’s trajectory when it is natural to contemplate the journey as having a beginning, a middle – and inevitably, an end.
That’s when we become most aware that life’s journey is a story. We know part of our story, but not all of it, not how it began, because some of our story is held in other people’s memories. As we consider this truth, it becomes apparent we need to revisit our origins, the place where we blasted off and started this exciting adventure. We need to reconnect – with the past, with our parents and grandparents, with their generations, with their stories; because now we realise that this journey of ours is not just about us, we are part of a continuing story.
Our life’s trajectory is a chapter in a far larger narrative. Hopefully, it’s not too late to find out about that bigger story and where we fit into it.
The irony is we need the perspective of time and distance to see and appreciate this insight into how we come to know our place in humanity.