We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. — Thomas Merton, the American monk
I just finished reading a book called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. This quote was found in that book. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk who believes that we have two distinct parts of our lives. After this quote he goes on to say:
The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?” “How can I support myself?” and “Who will go with me?” The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver. As Mary Oliver puts it, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” In other words, the container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life, which you largely do not know about yourself! Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets into the deep” (John 21:6) to bring in the huge catch that awaits them.
I have probably asked myself most of the questions above at least a couple of times in my life. The first half questions, it turns out, are rather simple compared to the second half ones. I spent the first half my life as an engineer and information technology scientist. I can proudly look back on several accomplishments during those years where I helped make people’s lives a little easier. The occupation I chose, but in reality it was really chosen for me as I didn’t have a clue on what I wanted to be at that time, paid well so I had no problems supporting myself.
The “Who will go with me” question was a harder one. I did not marry until almost my fortieth birthday. By then I had almost given up on the idea of this question. I am happy to say that I have been married now for twenty-seven years so I did have someone to accompany me during much of my later first half years.
The first half of life does in no way insinuate taking half of your chronological years. For some they develop their container early in life. For others they may spend their entire time on earth and not finish the first half. I may be somewhat typical of many in that, in looking back, I did not really complete my container until almost my retirement from the corporate world. Up till that time I was just too consumed by the day-to-day stuff.
The second half of life answers did not come until I gave myself time to get out of the proverbial rat race. I indeed do find that my life is deeper and fuller than it has ever been. I really like the final words of the quote that advises not to spend your life on container repair but to take a chance by throwing your net into deep waters. When I did that I found quite a catch….