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Life stages

Life stages
Life stages
Dr. Wayne Willis

For many of us who are chronologically gifted, life has fallen into four overlapping parts:

  1. Surviving. Learning. Growing. Individuating. Springtime.
  2. Generating. Establishing family and career. Shopping, spending, acquiring. Summer.
  3. Equilibrium. Stability. Security. Enjoying la dolce vita, the good life. Autumn.
  4. Shedding. Simplifying. Downsizing. Legacy review. Dying. Winter.

I’m learning from friends who are somewhere between the beginning and the end of their winter season that downsizing is not what it once was. Some of their children are affluent and have little or no interest in hand-me-downs from parents. Their children’s houses are already crowded with self-selected furniture. Thoroughly modern, they have little appreciation for heirlooms, save for a relic or two that can fit easily into a drawer or on a dresser. Their parents are facing the reality of having to give away many cherished possessions to strangers in need or have something akin to an estate sale.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood can teach us a thing or two about traveling light. After raising 11 children, she read an article about the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail and decided, at 67, to hike it and become the first woman to hike it alone. She averaged 14 miles a day. Then, she hiked it two more times. At 72, she walked the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail to help celebrate its centennial.

Grandma Gatewood’s homemade denim duffel bag contained a flashlight, Swiss army knife, matches, tin cup, Band-Aids, Mercurochrome, soap, towel and a shower curtain to keep off the rain. For snacks, she carried raisins, peanuts, powdered milk and bouillon cubes. Strangers occasionally fed her and put her up for a night.

How did she acquire her toughness? For 30 years, she fled to the woods to escape a battering husband. The wilderness, for her, was a safe place.