My friend Betsy replied to my post last night about my underlying sadness. I was struggling to put words to my feelings, but she sort of hit it dead on.
“I think the underlying sadness is this feeling that we expected something different at this point in our lives. Almost like it’s not supposed to be this hard or this lonely. That we fight so hard to get to the good moments that once they come we cling to them as they are so fragile and as they slip away that undercurrent is waiting to drag us down. But we fight to stay above it…. fight to find our way back to those fleeting moments of pure happiness and contentment. When I have them, I stop, stand completely still, and just take a deep breath. Breathing in the relief that comes with it. Breathing it up to bottle for later when the sadness threatens again. ”
This is the dilemma of midlife, right? It is one of the most amazing times I’ve ever experienced with its knowing and non-stop questions and insights. Sometimes I think when I hit 45, I slammed into a wall and woke up.
I really have worked hard to stay awake. I did my therapy and recovery work to take care of my addictions and compulsions that drove me like a driverless bus throughout my early life. I learned what works for me spiritually, and I’ve made big efforts to set boundaries around evil in my life so that I can focus on what is light and good. I’ve simplified, and I try to spend my time enjoying myself and the world around me. And I’ve made major strides in developing connecting and loving relationships with lots of safe people. And, I have to say that my life is good. I’m more content than I’ve ever been. I know how to “do me”.
When I was moving up here, I called my sister, and I was discussing my fears about moving and my angst about whether or not I was doing the right thing. I feel so out of step with most of the world because I’ve lived my life differently. I have no husband, no children, and I focus on a different agenda than our mainstream culture. And here I was – at 55 – moving again for a new job in a frozen tundra. I was worried I was too different and what if I look back at some future date and realize that I’ve done this whole thing wrong. “But that’s not you, Sharon,” she said, stopping my anxious rant in its tracks. “You have to do you, Boo,” she added.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized two things. The world as we know it is one big dysfunctional game. And I don’t want to play it anymore. This one spin around the world is way too important to me to play meaningless games. I don’t want to play political games at work. I don’t want to play passive-aggressive games in relationships. I don’t even much like to play board games although I’m starting to realize it’s a great way to connect with people. I’m working really hard to get out of the game-playing, manipulative culture. But it’s not easy. The world is fast asleep on its own driverless bus, and it’s not my job to wake it up.
It can be disorienting at times to feel like I’m peering through the looking glass. Thankfully, I have lots of awake friends who listen and help keep me on track. Like my sister, they are aware of their internal compass. They are aware that living life mindfully is a choice that is not easy to navigate. They understand that loss is a natural thing, and we have tools that help move us through it rather than denying its existence. And like my friend Betsy, they treasure the fleeting moments of contentment and serenity.
I only know my experience of midlife, and I think this time is truly magical. I love having more comfort with who I am. I treasure the awareness that I can choose when to engage and when to step away. Making a choice is empowering. It’s cool to have all of these life experiences that I can use to understand who I am and what makes me tick. My history is a treasure chest of trinkets – some broken or corroded and some completely intact – for reflection and study. My emotions no longer ebb and flow on a hormonal cycle, and I can more easily see how they relate to my experience. The urgency of youth has been replaced with a more grounded urgency to live my life authentically. This time in life is so rich.
I did expect something different at this time in my life. But I think if I had created what I expected, I might still be comfortable sleeping. I can never know for sure, but I think that somehow, unwittingly and against all odds, I became who I was born to be. It’s not anywhere near perfect, but I think it’s perfect for me.