Recently, three young adult men visited the offices, catching me up on their lives. We laughed over the antics which kept them all under the intense scrutiny of the staff when they lived as teens in NCCF’s group home many years ago. Soberly, we talked about how they are doing now and their vision for their futures. Today, they are lifelong friends. At the D.C. Armory, where NCCF launched the holiday season last week with a party supported by a variety of donors and volunteers for over 400 poor children and their families, I was intrigued and pleased by the abundance of loving, pleasant exchange. Much fun. Much food. Music and laughter. One church from Fort Washington brought the annual supply of new bicycles to give away. I asked a child who happily pushed his shiny bike along, “Is that yours?” His mother smiled at me kindly and noted that it belonged to all four of her young children. She was very happy, too.
Many have responded generously to our appeal during this season of giving. A season when some among us become very depressed and feel utterly hopeless. Abandoned. Impoverished. Lonely. Neighboring families step up to serve less fortunate others. Toys. Foods. Clothes. Even a decent car for a single father to transport his three little girls as he works and cares for them while they grieve the loss of their mother. Corporations. Sororities and service clubs. Churches and synagogues. Schools and community leaders. Old and young. It is absolutely exhilarating to witness close up the positive impact of a caring community on the desperate lives of so many.
Suddenly, I feel generative. Surrounded by others with a similar need. Generativity versus stagnation. I recall my early training on human development. This is the seventh stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Between approximately 40-65 years, adults seek to create or nurture things that will outlast them, that will leave the world a better place, that will leave their mark, through their children and/or their contributions. Stagnation, on the other hand, is the failure to find a way to contribute. Stagnation results in disconnection, a lack of involvement, a sense of unproductivity.
On Thursday, the news of Mr. Mandela’s death revealed an obvious truth. This prisoner turned president, whose moral compass brought healing to his country, moved well past the generativity stage of life on to the eighth and final stage, integrity. At 95, we are left with the recognition that his life transformed our universal understanding of our ability truly to forgive an oppressor, reconciling through peace and healing. This takes courage, spiritual stamina, discipline, and a deep respect for humanity. At this latter stage, however, an individual who looks back on their life with satisfaction, finds the wisdom to confront their own death, without despair. One believes deeply that his or her life has mattered.
Over the next days, Mandela is being honored throughout the world. His life is an example of human maturation, at its best. Not perfection, but sheer goodness. His life will be celebrated throughout generations to come. And inspired by this man’s example, I will continue to work on my own generativity, with faith that ultimately this too will lead to wisdom and integrity, of the kind that honors my Creator, family, and community, in my own smaller, yet hopefully, significant way.