I am firmly settled into middle age. 46 years and 3 months as of this day, to be exact.
Actually, I hope I am just now approaching middle age, since the thought of being on the downhill slope of my life doesn’t make me feel very warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing until one is on the deathbed, or enmeshed in whatever precipitous event results in death – and to be honest, I’m not all fired up excited about that either.
In any case, I concede the fact that I am more or less experiencing the summer of my life. And lately, I’ve been chewing on the concept of the mid-life crisis – whether or not it’s real and if it is, am I having one myself? While I don’t necessarily have the urge to run out and buy a sports car or have a torrid affair with the pool boy (even if I *did* have a pool, mind you) – I am restless and ready to start tilling some different patches of earth. Mostly, this means figuring out once and for all what I really want and what I really think and believe. And then following up on what I find out.
But – do we ever really find what we want? Do we ever really know exactly what we believe?
This planet is vast and diverse and ever-changing, and there is a seemingly infinite number of simultaneous world-wide human experiences – the mundane, everyday happenings and the mind-blowing, life-altering events of every living person on Earth – in any and every given second of the day. These experiences all lead to certain ways of thinking and acting, whether in huge, varying degrees or in tiny, barely noticeable blips. And all those degrees and blips ripple out from everyone and collide with the ripples from others, and from those collisions come the diversity and the constant challenges of living.
Forgive me for waxing all heavy and philosophical, but all of that means something to me. This idea of the ripple effect and how we are all connected through our inter (and counter) actions – it means that even though I think I’ve arrived at a place where I absolutely know who I am, the truth is I don’t. Because the ripples are always out there. While sometimes they only cause one to dig in deeper with one’s own ideals, which in and of itself, is still movement in a particular direction, other times they cause one to re-think and re-calculate and adjust accordingly. I am much more inclined to the latter rather than the former. Having and keeping an open mind is of supreme importance to me.
The connection of self-awareness and middle age is validated by this: there are very few 20-year-olds who have enough experience to actually know they are sorely inexperienced. They send out ripples at light speed and by the mile, but they are so busy doing so that they leave little opportunity for the incoming ripples to interact. At least, that’s the way I see things. I’m certainly not trying to paint all younger people with the same broad brush, because I know there are always exceptions to the rule – but I do think this is true to a very strong degree.
This is simply how it works, and that’s ok because it works very well. Understanding that one is always and forever “never quite there” is a pinnacle concept to take into one’s bones and it is amazingly liberating, because that means learning never stops. What you are at any given point in time is never all you will be. One is rarely, if ever, ready for that concept until a certain point in life – and middle-age is it, even if it’s nothing else. All of life is a process.
So even though I don’t relish the idea of possibly having fewer years left in me than I’ve already had, bring on the wrinkles and the grey hair. Bring on the penguin-toddle that I do for the first few moments of every morning when I get out of bed because my muscles and joints are stiff, and bring on “the squint” (likely aggravating the wrinkles as a bonus!) as my eyesight slows down. Because along with all of the physical baggage of older age that starts getting tossed on the train comes the blissful understanding that one is finally in a place to start living with renewed awareness and oftentimes as a result, renewed purpose.
That is what waking up is all about.