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Life Longings

October 12, 2012

Age and my experience of life longings

Sehnsucht (as the Germans call it) or “life-longings” is the feeling of longing for something….. that life is incomplete. There is a nagging feeling of “if only” ……..a recurrent and  strong desire  for some imagined (utopian?) reality : a sense of imperfection in one’s life. Something is missing that may appear essential for a meaningful life and if attained, promises to make life more complete…..

As a-soon-to-be octogenarian, my life longings of recent years have been directed at memories of past peak experiences, positive feelings associated with a past life phase and of people and places that I would love to re-experience in the present.

As so many of my friends and relatives have dropped off the planet recently (or are becoming  mentally incapable) the quality of my life longings are indeed “bitter-sweet”. Feelings of hope are combined with feelings of disappointment and some regret as my life-longings may well become out of reach.

With my increasing  age, (or perhaps with adults of any age) I have to face the fact that life does not consist of unlimited opportunities and exclusively positive experiences; it always involves constraints, compromises, paradox,  challenges, threats, losses, and difficult, sometimes even traumatic, life events.  If one considers life as a whole, to some people these negative experiences may seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But over recent years I determined at some point to change one particular life longing into a goal. I needed to see my remaining old friends and relatives once more…. Fortunately, fulfillment of my longing was a real possibility. I felt I could make it happen. I felt I was fit enough, I felt I could control it. This, of course, is totally unlike other types of intense longings, un-achieveable things like longing to see my mother just once more, or those of middle aged or older childless women who long for children but are past the developmental deadline (Kotter-Gruehn et al., 2008). These life longings, if intense, along with many others, do not necessarily promote happiness…..

Fulfilling a longing

Over the last month I have fulfilled my longing.  I have just returned home  from being with all my old friends and remaining relatives (the few that are left, that is). I also visited places in Wales where as a young family we holidayed and camped in the summer. I traveled through the Brecon Beacons, climbed up to the Welsh castles, saw Cader Idris again, felt the bitter wind at our favourite Penbryn beach, and stayed in an isolated Welsh farmhouse for B&B. It was such joy and pleasure and the icing on the cake was that there were three generations of us for the trip, as the family tagged along when they knew I had made up my mind to fulfill this longing. Now I can nurture my past memories with my recent ones and reflect on the sense of well-being…….

Wisdom and Life Longings, S. Schiebe, U. Kunzman, P Baltes, (2008)

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