On Healing 5/1/2006: Age 6 – as seen from age 60

Dear Sam,
By coincidence, you turn 6 this month and I turn 60 a couple of weeks later. Because of your autism, you are a little different from many 6-year-olds. And I am different from many 60-year-olds because of my quadriplegia!

For you, the world can sometimes feel a little scary. You need more predictability and structure than most kids your age. When your day varies from routine, your mom creates a picture story in the morning so you know exactly what will happen and in what sequence.

For me, my body is probably more tired than most of my peers. After all, it has been working very hard since my injury 26 years ago.

But the issues are pretty much the same for both of us when it comes to what it means to be human.

Many years ago, one of my teachers said the best way to master something new is to learn it, do it, and then teach it. I think this is how life works. The brain is constantly learning.

And the beauty of your age is that you don’t know how much you don’t know! So you feel excitement and awe about learning. Your brain, mind and heart are wide open to drinking in new information about security and independence or the difference between play and work. Through your parents, you are beginning to develop a moral compass and learn some of the differences between men and women.

When you hit adolescence, you will find yourself in the “do it” stage of life. You will develop your ego and identity. And if you are like many adolescents, you will test limits.

From adolescence to near my age, most of what people do is create; they create relationships and lives. They build monuments and move mountains, and if they are fortunate, discover their strengths and limits. They will learn who they are and who they are not, and see themselves as part of the world.

Sometimes people in this stage forget how much they don’t know and think they know more than they really do. Sadly, these people can no longer feel awe. Some of them do pretty destructive things to themselves, other people, and even the planet. Others just feel empty or feel nothing at all.

The third stage, consolidation, is a time when we look back over our lives and think about what we have learned and what we would like to leave future generations.

Most people at 60 are not yet in this stage, but because of my quadriplegia, I have been thinking about this for several years. That’s why I wrote you the book Letters to Sam. I wanted to tell you about my life and what I have learned.

I would like to see every grandparent write about this to their grandchildren. Our grandchildren will benefit from hearing about our dreams and nightmares. And all grown-ups benefit from deep reflection over their lives. Older people have so much to teach.

Sam, when we had dinner last week, you turned to me spontaneously and said: “When I get older, you will be dead, right?” When I said yes, you turned to your mother and asked for more ketchup!

I know you are mulling over matters of life and death, and you seem to understand that you will be alive longer than your pop.

But I want to tell you what I once learned from the great teacher of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He once asked how many points are in a line one-foot long. Of course, the answer is infinite. Then he asked the same of a line one-inch long. Same answer.

So, my sweet Sam, if I am able to experience my life fully, guess how many moments I have left? Same as you – infinite.

Love,
Pop

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