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old old old and peanut butter

deep in schoo thought I am. I blame Mr Russo: when ever I think a lot I want peanut butter. However, probably thats not true, I probaby eat too much peanut butter regardless. Mr Russo is an awsome philosophy teacher with fred flinstone fingers. He likes peanut butter and jack daniels with a nipple on it. I like philosophy becuase if you are clear thinking you can either convince someone of anything, or run them in circles endlessly. In this way, peanut butter is related to clear thinking for me, however, right now I am probably less clear than I've ever been. He used to tell the same bad jokes over and over. He was magic: he would walk down the street and then turn into a bar. He engaged me in a fifteen minute illustration about how we couldnt throw so-and-so (the girl who wasnt listening) out the window becuase of a xeno paradox. she still wasnt listening.

heres another paper. That introduction has nothing to do with it. I was just thinking about peanut butter.

My Grandpa on my mother’s side came over for Easter. He almost never participates in holidays but, then again, neither do I. I was glad to see him there. Honestly, I have been expecting him to die. However, as glad as I was that he made it, I still couldn’t quite look at him. Partly it is fear, and partly it is recognition of how foreign we are to the people who should know us best. In a certain sense, my grandpa stands as a symbol for my greatest fears and my greatest unknowns. As a society it seems that the aging represent our fears because they are losing everything that we think is essential. They remind us of the unknown as they stand closer to death—the biggest unknown of all.

My Grandpa spent probably half of his life chronically old-old. For as long as I can remember, he was stuck to the couch and never acknowledge me when I was there with my grandma everyday. He made it through my grandma’s battle and death to Alzheimer’s; a process that somehow hit him and got him off the couch. He spent several years out in the world (worrying my mother) until he recently got very sick. He did make it through, and now was hoarding jellybeans. Somebody mentioned that this was the first time they ever heard him laugh.

I tell this story to illustrate some connections I see between aging and depth. As I see it, to look at aging is to look at depth: It takes into account the whole picture, encompassing both life as it has been revealed and the forever unknown. This story reminds me that life is long and learning continues throughout. In fact, old age may force us to look at the stuff we were able to avoid so far. This story also reminds me that healing is always possible and that we can witness it if we can withdraw our projections of what it should be.

Carl G. Jung held the perspective that learning—and, therefore individuation and personality development—is a life long process. I think that he would agree with my story pointing to the idea that, right up until the end, we are still learning about our selves and others. This may seem obvious, but I think that it is an important point to make since most developmental psychology is focused on childhood. Jung asks us to extend our view of the learning child through out life. In The Development of the Individual as quoted from Anthony Storr’s compilation The Essential Jung, he held,
…we talk about the child, but we should mean the child in the adult. For in every adult there lurks a child—an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. (Storr, 1983, p. 194)

He seemed to suggest that personality development is displaced onto children because we see ourselves as lost causes. He mentioned parents who are, “always ‘doing their best’ for their children and ‘living only for them’ (Storr, 1983, p.194).
Whatever put the focus of learning on childhood, I think that it has contributed to the nature of this culture where youth is so valued. If we think that our potential is set once we leave childhood, it makes sense that we would fear old age as we believe we no longer have the power to change things for ourselves. This makes me think of my grandpa spending most of his life on the couch, how partly it was pain, but also it was depression. Adults—especially when they start living for their children—sometimes seem to stagnate and die to themselves long before they are dead. I wonder if maybe adults lose their vitality not because of age, but rather because they have been told to stop looking and they have obeyed.

However, in my story my grandpa did get off the couch; maybe he looked stuck for thirty years, but something in him was still moving. In the course of a life time, we get knocked down many times, but get up to live again in ways we never could expect. In referring to the development of the personality, Jung said, “a whole life time, in all its biological, social, and spiritual aspects is needed” (Storr, 1983, p.195). This reminds me that we must be patient with life to see what is in store. It reminds me that I need to open up my perspective to the whole arc of life, not just what it feels like right now.

This also makes me think of how wrong it is to think of anyone as a mundane, common, or un-individuated person—I think life requires everyone to be extraordinary. I was amazed by the details of the long lives described in Mary Pipher’s book, Another Country. She refers to the life-long learning as “resiliency” and said that resilient people “have learned about psychological survival from their long and complicated lives” (Pipher, p. 243). The interesting thing to me is how this “psychological survival” comes out of the challenges and deterioration. My grandpa got off the couch—not because life got easier—but because my grandma got sick and life suddenly got really hard. I might imagine that healing means that pain goes away. I might even wish than an old person lost the symptoms of their age but, usually, healing cannot be sought in this way. More than anything, I think that aging shows us our vulnerability. I have seen tremendous healing and resiliency in my family mostly in the times when things have fallen apart. I wonder if coming to terms with our flawed humanity and vulnerability might be what true healing is.

I think about healing a lot because I work with people’s bodies. I do bodywork and energy work and most of my clients are elderly. I continuously need to pull myself back from wanting to do something. Even though I am there to relieve their pain, I have to keep my projections in check: do I think there is something wrong with this person? I am trying to cure this person of their age? Working through the body, I have a perspective similar to Jung that learning is and must be a life long process. I believe that so long as someone is in a body, there is learning going on—even when it looks like they are doing nothing, even when it looks like they are messing things up. I think of one client that I work with who has been bed bound with a slow-moving form of ALS for longer than I have been alive. He cannot talk, move or feel much now but, at night, he screams out from a pain he cannot feel. I cannot begin to imagine what his experience is or what his soul is crying out for him to notice. But I can sit there with him while he is in it and I can touch him like a baby.

Mary Pipher said that, “ We younger, healthier people sometimes avoid the old to avoid our own fears of aging. If we aren’t around dying people, we don’t have to think about dying” (Pipher, p. 40). This is certainly true for me. The more I am around older people the more I think of death. However, when I said at the beginning that I still couldn’t look at my grandpa, it was not death that I thought of—it was simply the unknown. Though death stands as a symbol for the ultimate unknown, the unknown in general cannot be avoided by simply avoiding old people. Old or young, it has been a lot for me to learn to look at anyone in the eye. It feels like a lot of vulnerability and power to look at a totally unknowable other. I think that this is what therapy is once we withdraw our projections and I think that it is what depth means as well. The story of my client is an example where age epitomizes therapy and depth: can I sit with someone and both totally understand and not understand at all? Can I sit with someone and do my best while knowing there is nothing to be done?


Comments

that's brilliant and beautiful. go, you.

I was roller skating down the street all wild and there were these people on the sidewalk and I collided with them

I was like:

"Hey! you got your grandpa in my peanut butter."

And they were like...

"no, you got your peanut butter on my grandpa."

But really: they tasted great together.

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