What abides. Cultivating purpose and passion beyond family.

March 6th, 2012

β€œShe was an object lesson on the essential luck, whatever hardships may come their way, of those born able to make things.”

― Diana Athill, Somewhere Towards the End

"The force that through the green fuse drives the flower Drives my green age..."

I was going to write a post today about my history with cars, but then I sat down to eat lunch and began reading a book that was recommended to me by my friend Susan. Eight pages in, I came across that line about the luck of people who can make things, and I had to drop everything to share it and respond to it. Isn’t that just what books should do?

This book is a memoir of aging, written in the author’s 91st year, and the “object lesson” was an encounter Athill had with an elderly painter, about whom she could detect “no feeling of emptiness.”

I’m so interested in what keeps people vital and positive as they grow old. As my own mother ages, I’m aware of how much loss she has to deal with among friends and family members of her generation. I observe that some people seem to move through those years with less wear and tear on their souls than others, and I’m curious what enables them to do so. What keeps their lives full, as lifelong careers, activities and relationships fall away? Is it inherent temperament or is it an intentional outlook?

I think all people are born with the “luck” to make things, whether or not they’ve realized it. But I take Athill’s meaning: we need passion and purpose that fulfills us beyond the roles that hinge on the all-too-mortal people we love. There must be something in us that abides for its own sake. The painter had her art. Athill has writing. Someone else might find it in faith, or a love of nature, or charity. Whatever endures.

When you are in the middle of family life, it’s so easy to lose sight of that constant. My children feel like my passion and my purpose, but their childhood will pass, and is passing, like all things. My husband is the love of my life, but our eventual parting is written into our marriage vows. What will one or the other of us live for, then?

Patrick’s parents were one of the most devoted couples I’ve ever met, but when my mother-in-law died, it left Patrick’s father a hollow man. It seemed as if he spent his last few years just waiting to die. I’ve seen women fall completely apart as their children become independent, men who wander lost in the rubble of divorce because their marriage was the only intimate relationship they bothered to cultivate as adults. It sounds noble to say we sacrificed all in the name of family, but is it really?

Whenever I hear someone proclaim that their family is their art/creation/vocation, I wince. For one thing, it’s a sure sign that person is blocked creatively, and that’s a deeply painful condition. For another, it’s a terrible psychic burden to place on the people you love. I consider it a kind of spiritual hijacking. A life is a creation, and it belongs wholly to the person living it and the green force that drives it.

There’s truth and wisdom in the refrigerator magnet maxim that what might be remembered 100 years from now is making a difference today in the life of the child. But I think it sometimes gets misused as a license to bury our gifts. To keep from making something that is truly our own. Maybe the difference we make in the life of a child is one made by example and inspiration as well as a nurturing presence. Perhaps our own lives can be object lessons in how to stay full, whatever hardships may–and will–come our way.


10 Responses to “What abides. Cultivating purpose and passion beyond family.”

  1. Diane says:

    Another great post…… just finished reading your book
    enjoyed It….keep writing

  2. Mom101 says:

    I really think I needed to read this today. Thank you so much, Kyran.

    Your posts always make me feel the way you did with that sentence in the book.

  3. shawn says:

    how did you get so wise? so soon.

  4. Kyran: This is the thing about a quick meet at #Blissdom–not enough time to talk about the big stuff. Love this thoughtful post!

  5. lomagirl says:

    Great affirming words for making what sometimes are difficult choices full of mom guilt.

  6. Cid says:

    Well said, once again. This is the reason I am going out a limb to the EBWW in Dayton. I want to pursue something that is mine but I know I need a little outside help.

  7. I read this after JUST finishing a surprisingly relaxed convo with my husband about dreams, the gifts we are so fortunate to have, and how it would be all too easy to let them slip by while we’re busy with the laundry. You describe something so subtle with such grace. Thank you for this.

  8. You said this so well. With four little kids it has been hard to keep a little something “of my own” and sometimes it feels like I’m hanging on to it by a thread, but I’m so glad I’ve kept my dreams and passions going. I hope this will be an example to my kids as well.

  9. Martha says:

    Some of these observations are so painfully true watching the parents of my childhood friends grow older. A cautionary tale! Always enjoy your blog.

  10. […] and lived for – both our children and others – grow up and go away, get old and die. Kyran asks: What abides? My children feel like my passion and my purpose, but their childhood will pass, and is passing, […]

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