I remember vividly discovering that I could learn from my children. I still marvel at the way they handle the life I have been instrumental in giving them as precious. With far greater ease than I recall mustering at their age and, seemingly, less effort, they navigate the challenges of their ‘Living Years’; all the more breathtakingly now as they interact with their own offspring. I have not always approved of the lifestyle choices they each have made, but I have come to recognise them as autonomous human beings in the making, just as I am, who were entrusted to me and my wife’s care for a season. We enjoy a freedom of sharing with them in celebrating their accomplishments and consoling them in their disappointments.
Paul Carrack’s plaintive voice captures so poignantly the regretful realisation “It’s too late when we die to admit we don’t see eye to eye.” Here’s a link to ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGDA0Hecw1k
‘The Living Years’ come to an abrupt end with death. For the survivor, relationship, albeit estranged, is severed. The opportunity for intergenerational discord to be repaired and the parties to be reconciled is lost. Grief adds to the pain of regret and even a hint of guilt might lurk, hauntingly, in the wings, if the bereaved feels they have contributed towards the rupture in connection which is now left unresolved.
As children we commonly model our lives on our caregivers as our closest example. As our orbit increases through school, further training, work and choice of life partner we become exposed to other influences which may cause tension, even conflict, with our forebears. This emotional strain often reaches its peak in teenage years as the adolescent is thrashing around seeking their own identity. Sometimes, fuelled by teenage rebellion, this leads to the adoption of any identity so long as it is not that of my father. The song encapsulates this tension succinctly in the opening line “Every generation blames the one before.”
Reflection, prompted by the father’s death, leads the son to recognise he has imbibed his father’s values “I know that I’m a prisoner to all my Father held so dear” and espoused his hopes and absorbed his fears “I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears” but they have left him feeling trapped.
Attempts to “get agreement in this present tense” are thwarted as the written word is “crumpled” and the spoken word is “stilted”. The “different language” we talk is embedded in our “defence” of our own insecurities. People become alienated from one another when they hold rigidly to their own position rather than making themselves vulnerable by entertaining the other’s “perspective”. The more entrenched we become in our viewpoint, the more inevitable a “quarrel” becomes. Disagreements frequently escalate due to lack of forgiveness for ways we’ve behaved in the past and a belief that behavioural change is not possible.
The song urges us not “to yield to the fortunes you sometimes see as fate” because to do so would “only sacrifice the future” relationship and ensure “it’s the bitterness that lasts”.
The song is essentially a plea to reconcile while we have the opportunity, born out of regret, “I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say… in the Living Years”. Catching the echo of his father’s spirit in his “baby’s new born tears” is perhaps an inkling of a resolve not to make the same mistake with his child.
I can’t help but be reminded that God has done everything necessary through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus, for us to reconcile with him in our ‘Living Years’ and so avoid an eternity of regret.
A registered therapist or counsellor can work with you through distressing emotions such as regret, grief and guilt to gain fresh perspective.
David Sinclair is a registered accredited psychotherapist, counsellor and supervisor.
He is the Pastoral Care Director of the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC), a faith based soul care agency.
David is also the Service Manager of Wessex Psychotherapy and Counselling CIO (WPC), a registered charity dedicated to relieving psychological and emotional distress.