The Trimesters of Life – Part 1: Knowledge

I’m beginning to think of life in terms of trimesters.  The biblical age for a full and complete life is seventy years, says the psalmist, eighty if we have the strength (Psalm 90:10). Thanks to modern medicine, ninety isn’t an unreasonable expectation, barring a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or chance encounter with a drunk driver, though one’s mileage will vary. We’re all born with an expiration date stamped on a place we cannot see. Ninety is nicely divisible by three giving us three trimesters: birth to thirty, thirty to sixty, and sixty to ninety, if we have the strength and the genetic fortitude.

I like the image of the “trimester;” it’s birth-oriented. “These are the beginning of the birth pangs.” Instead of seeing life as a headlong rush to the grave, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of eternal life allow us to view life as a journey from birth to rebirth, from old creation to new, with death being the transition from one to the other. Just as we spent three trimesters in the womb – each trimester marking a stage in our biological development from conception to birth – so we spend three trimesters in this life, each denoting a phase in our maturation into eternity. I call these trimesters the seasons of knowledge, experience, and wisdom, respectively.

The first trimester, beginning at birth, is the season of knowledge. We are born seeking knowledge. We soak it up like dry sponges. We can’t stop asking questions, and the answers can’t come quickly enough to satisfy our curiosities. In the first years of life we learn language, communication, sociology, biology, theology, physics, humanities, philosophy. We become members of a family, a tribe, and a society. We learn mathematics, relationships, color, and the power of symbol. Our brains are nimble and agile, firing on all synapses, continually creating new connections, matrixing complex concepts in a vast hologram of knowledge. Our minds facilely spin facts and figures like a Cirque de Soleil juggler.

Energy seems boundless. We go from quietly nursing at Mother’s breast to chasing siblings around the playground. At puberty, the hormonal energies zero in on “being fruitful and multiplying” as we become fascinated by the other. We fall in and out of love at a flirtatious glance. Our judgments are not always sound, and the connections between action and consequence are not always readily apparent to us – our prefrontal cortexes lag a bit in development – but the energy to rearrange the world fills us with expectation.

We grow in stature and knowledge from childhood into youthful versions of manhood and womanhood through the awkward apprenticeship of adolescence. We prepare to take our place in family, community, and congregation. We seek a suitable mate and ponder what we will do “when we grow up.” Impatience rules the day. We can’t wait until we are sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one. Time can’t pass quickly enough.

Even after we fledge the parental nest and strike out on our own, there is more to learn. A literal lifetime of learning. College, graduate school, post-graduate school, on-the-job training, apprenticeship, seminars. All careers begin at the bottom. There are no shortcuts, no skipping rungs on the ladder. There are part-time jobs, short-term jobs, and jobs taken just to pay the bills and bide some time between other jobs. You may have been voted “most likely to succeed” in high school, but the proof of that still remains to be seen. Most of your initial attempts at success wind up on the scrap heap. Apprentices are not known for their mastery.

As we near the close of the first trimester at age thirty, we begin to “settle down.” We may have found a suitable spouse, birthed our first children, established a home, inaugurated our careers or at least made a few lateral lane changes until finding a vocational shoe that reasonably fits. We know a few things. We don’t know everything, though sometimes we think we do. We’ve begun to play the game of life as adults, though we quickly realize that we’re rookies and the seasoned veterans around us seem to know some things we don’t. If we’re smart, we’ll watch and learn from them. They have something we still lack at the end of life’s first trimester: Experience.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7

©2019 William M. Cwirla