I believe we have two lives…the life we learn with and the life we live after that.
– Glenn Close to Robert Redford in the film, “The Natural”
And perhaps what we call the “midlife crisis” is the dividing line between the two?
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading the excellent collection of essays in the book, “Unravelling; Discovering Our True Selves in Midlife,” compiled by Camilla Joubert. The diversity of experiences—and perspectives—revealed there is no one way of navigating the middle years.
However, in my observation, there was one common thread that ran throughout the entire collection: the need to feel some degree of happiness on a regular basis and have a sense of purpose with how one spends one’s days—and if neither of these needs is being met, we have two choices: keep on the same path or change it in some way.
Joubert was inspired to compile this collection after experiencing an “unraveling” of sorts herself…a rather spectacular midlife crisis. After picking herself up off the floor—literally—and beginning the process of weaving together the threads of her old life (and self) along with her new life (and self), she realized she was not alone in hitting a sort of half-way point on her life path and having to accept the uncomfortable fact that to take a single step more in the direction she was heading was not an option.
Here is a passage from her essay, aptly titled “Unravelling”:
Who had I become? I was completely lost…I would walk around having snippets of conversation, shopping, washing, feeding, cleaning but I wasn’t present. I had managed to ‘exit’ my body. It felt like my soul had decided it didn’t like being inside me! There was a massive void in my life and nothing could fill it…For a long time before feeling lost, I’d felt stuck. Stuck in a life I felt I had little say or control over. That feeling of being trapped inside my head had been as visceral as the feeling of being lost and outside my mind and body.Don’t like ads? Become a supporter and enjoy The Good Men Project ad free
I was one of the writers who contributed an essay to Camilla’s collection.
My essay was entitled, “The Path with a Heart.” Here are two snippets:
Throughout all the heartache and the hurt, the hard work and the challenges, the pain and the setbacks, the sorrow and the roadblocks, I think we are on our path when we know that at the end of it all—whenever that may be—we will die a happy and fulfilled person who has achieved what we set out to do. And, if we avail ourselves of the opportunities around us, a heck of a lot more.
So where did I go to find the peace and quiet to begin to find my path? Where my heart rested, of course: my husband John’s grave. Except that it wasn’t just his grave; it was also mine—literally. While John’s destiny was now physically carved into that stone, mine was still a blank. At thirty-two, I knew exactly where I was going to end up—I just didn’t know when. And despite the hurt that comes with ‘hanging out’ with my husband’s headstone, instead of him, it was very conducive to helping me face my own mortality and what that meant for my journey.
I love this passage from Kathi Cameron in her essay, “The Gen-Ager”:
I was starting to feel like things were on track; I had a great career, a great man friend, and a great social network. Then, at forty-three, I heard it for the first time, that well-meaning punchline that feels like a kick in the proverbial muffin-top: “You sure look great for your age.”
And then there’s this candid insight from L. Fletcher in her essay, “The Great Skate”:
I remember clearly a bright summer morning when I woke up, at thirty-nine years of age, and asked myself in a blur of semi-consciousness: “What am I doing? Who am I? Is this what I wanted for myself? Is this happiness?” I knew that I had, in that instant, opened the Pandora’s Box of great existential queries of mid-lifers the world over. And now that the box had been opened, it had released a gnawing little gremlin that would not go away. I managed to stall the gremlin by keeping myself busy with my social life and doing everything I could to support everyone around me…Because as long as I was doing everything for everyone else, I wouldn’t have to face my own life.
And check out this thought-provoking first stanza of the poem, “The Invitation,” that was printed in full within the essay by Casey Ross:
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
– From “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
In the second part of our lives—the life we are living after the one we’ve learned with—meeting our heart’s longing (whatever or whoever that may be) is certainly a worthy goal to continue to work towards. In my experience, however, the learning never ends, regardless of our age…but the learning curve does tend to be significantly steeper in the younger years.
Although not necessarily.
Previously Published on Pink Gazelle