Life goes through a good many more stages, I think, than the ones most commonly identified—childhood, youth, adulthood, middle age, old age. I don’t think that life’s stages have much to do with age, with the number of years we’ve spent breathing, at all. I think the parts of life are best described by the kinds of relationships most commonly made in each.
The years and phases of life call for different levels of relationship. We talk, for instance, about playmates, buddies, gangs, schoolmates, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, lovers, soul mates, and then, at the end, friends again. Each of these various types of relationships represents a stage in our own maturity and development. They teach us, a level of the soul at a time, what it means to discover that we are not alone in life, not the center of life, not the standard of value for anyone else’s journey through life.
We learn something valuable from each and every one of them about what it means to be alive, a social being, a companion on the journey.
Playmates provide companionship; buddies give us a sense of security as we begin to learn our way through life; gangs give us a feeling of belonging; schoolmates bring a feeling of camaraderie in the face of the crowd; friends provide the beginning of intimacy; acquaintances become a lifeline in strange places; colleagues provide professional identity; lovers teach us the otherness of life; soul mates bring us home to the self; friends put cement under our feet again just when we begin to realize that our own legs are not as strong as they used to be. It is a lifelong series of coming to understand ourselves through our feelings.
The relationships we form at each stage make every stage that follows both easier to negotiate and more meaningful. It is a precious thing, relationship, meant to be savored and certain to be demanding. It is our relationships that teach us how to be a human being rather than a prima donna, a useful member of the human race rather than a spoiled diva.
Our relationships grow us up and make life possible—all the way to the grave. It is incumbent upon us to make them possible, both for the other’s sake and for our own.