You’re Never Too Old to Change
Curt Thompson M.D., author of Anatomy of the Soul, on finding personal transformation later in life and the practices that encourage that change.
The good news is that, we are never too old to make changes. Perhaps, this was why, Moses was 80 when he got the call. Perhaps, this is why, Abraham was 75, when the whole process started. Perhaps, this is why God is not worried about any of us, in terms of when we begin to make changes.
A story that’s related to this, begins with a young man in his mid-thirties who was the oldest of five children, and had a nine-month-old, that was rather precautious in giving him some difficulties. And so, he called his mother for some advice. And she, wise person that she was, decided she wanted to refer her son, to his father, who was about 63 at the time. Her son was not very happy about this because his father had never been anybody who’d really talk to him throughout his entire life.
About anything except, whether or not he was getting to church on time. Or whether or not he had his homework done and so forth. But emotional things within the family, were never things that they discussed. And he wasn’t very pleased with his mother because he wasn’t getting from her the advice that he wanted directly.
Upon contacting his father, his father had a story to tell him. A story that he never told him before. His father mentioned to him that, this 35-year-old son of his, had never known his grandfather. His father’s father who had been an alcoholic and had died before the 35-year-old was born. And Ed, the 63-year-old Dad in this story, told his son, what you didn’t know about him was that he would get very aggressive, in his states of drunkenness and would throw people around the room and the kitchen.
And he told his son, “I swore that when I had kids, I would never ever do to them, what my father did to me.” And so, whenever it came to emotional things, that would get dicey in the house, he would simply withdraw and allow his wife, to take over. Consequently, he never really had much of an emotional connection with his kids. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he was afraid of what might happen. Well this wasn’t something that his 35-year old son, was really ever aware of.
But Ed told his son, that when his 9-month old was born, things started to happen because Ed was now in a position, where he didn’t really have to be responsible for parenting, he wasn’t responsible for a lot of things. For the development of his grandson. His problem was, he didn’t know how to connect with him.
And it was creating all kinds of problems, in his own relationship with his wife, because he was, worried about why he couldn’t do better with his new grandson. And his wife said, “I think you should go talk to this guy.” And so into my office walks 63 year-old Ed. Who never really had told anyone about the details and certainly had not ever shared the emotional content of the trauma of what it was like to grow up in a house, where everybody was being brutalized, in the wake of his father’s alcoholism.
Now, what’s significant about all this, is that as Ed did work with me, he began to notice changes within himself, he was paying attention to emotional states, he never had before. Paying attention to memory. Having that revitalized and changed, such that he was now beginning to talk with his wife. At one point his wife called me and said, “What have you done with my husband?”
This didn’t solve the problem immediately however, of how Ed was going to relate to his grandson. Until that fateful day when Calvin, his 35-year old son, called his mother.
As Ed began to tell Calvin his story, Calvin of course was stunned, by things about his father’s story that he didn’t know. And Calvin heard his father feeling things and describing things and even asking for forgiveness. Something he’d never really been very well practiced at doing in the course of their life together.
Here’s the strange and beautiful part. As Ed began to make sense of his life, he created space for Calvin to begin to make sense with his life, because Calvin had for all of his life, never really thought or felt his father loved him, he felt his hollow father tolerated him, there was no sense of his being aware, that his father really deeply loved him.
He was just handicapped by his own fear. This then began to activate some things in Calvin, that interestingly enough meant that over time, Calvin started to figure some things out, which enabled him to be less anxious. Which interestingly enough meant that his parenting of his own son, began to change. Now what’s interesting about all this.
It was changing, long before Calvin’s nine-month old son, had language, this was not a matter of Calvin explaining things differently to this young boy. This was a matter of the trickle-down effect of what happens when an older person, begins to work on changes in his mind, that evoked changes in his 35-year old son, that move all the way to the brain of a nine-month old. Now here’s the really good news.
We can see that, whether you’re nine months of age, nine years of age or 90 years of age, the potential for regeneration, for renewal, for changing your mind ,for repairing ruptures, is never ever exhausted and this is really good news.