A passing thought

When I was younger my life was like a bottomless basket of days to spend. Of course I always knew it was a finite amount that would eventually come to an end. But there were so very many days in that basket, that the idea of them running out was of no concern to me.

Here is one of my midlife revelations. I see now that the level of those days in that basket has dropped significantly. I don’t know how many more there are, but I can readily tell that I have already used more, undoubtedly many more, than I have left.

I think the death of both of my parents has sharpened this sense that time is running out, that time is of the essence. Since their passing, I have been somewhat preoccupied with death, and in particular with my own death. It’s not that I fear death or am even particularly sad about the idea of the end to my own life. But the thought of my inevitable death makes me consider more seriously my life.

Recently I feel like I struggle with younger people. I don’t always understand them. I don’t always understand their behavior at times or their priorities in particular. And I came to realize today that perhaps younger people still see their basket of days as an endless supply, as I did. When I was young, I had just arrived at the amusement park. I could go on the first ride that caught my eye, and then the next. But now, at this stage of my life, I’ve spent a good part of the day at that amusement park already. I’m starting to think about what rides  I most want to go on before I have to leave. It’s a different perspective altogether, with different priorities.

I know. If younger people are reading, or were to read, this, I suspect they might protest. I would have too. Of course younger people know their life will come to an end. I did too. We all do.

But that knowledge has transformed somehow inside of me with the passing years. That knowledge now colors and informs decisions I make like never before. Where do I want to live? Because, realistically, how many more moves do I really have in me? The knowledge of my mortality informs daily choices I make. Do I really need another print book? How am I going to get rid of all the books we have already collected?

Most importantly, that knowledge informs the quality of the relationships I have with other people. Do I really have time for hurt feelings or disappointment? Maybe disappointment is a choice I can choose not to make.

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. Her days ran out sometime during her 78th year. Do I have twenty more years, thirty or more, only 5? I have no way to know.

You might link I am maudlin or morose. But quite the opposite is true. I am on a challenging journey to find the light. I want those days left in my basket, however many there are, to shine. To really shine.



It’s all about me – a worldview

I just finished Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. It’s a mother-daughter memoir where chapters alternate their perspectives. I enjoyed reading it very much and related to it quite well. In the book, Sue is dealing with the changes that are happening in her own life as she ages into menopause. She is also trying to understand and adapt to the change in the mother-daughter relationship that will allow her to “let-go” yet stay an important person in her daughter’s life.

I can relate to so very much of this.

But reading this book was a jumping off point for me to wonder about something else, and that is our society’s emphasis on the self.

In one part of the book, Sue mentions a workshop she co-led called Maiden, Mother, Crone. “It wasn’t about chronological phases in a woman’s life,” she writes, “but about an internal process of becoming.” She mentions that she invited her mother to the workshop. Which in turn, made me think of my own mother and that started the ball rolling in my mind, like a game of mousetrap where one unrelated action eventually leads to a series of others.

Traveling with Pomegranates is about finding a “self” or re-acquainting with a “self,” both as it relates to a young woman about to embark on a marriage and career, and an older woman facing her mortality. I’ve read a lot about this in menopausal literature—rediscovering your self. And I’m not criticizing the concept. I just wonder, when did my mom have the time or the chance to do this? My mom went from maiden to mother and basically got stuck there for 51 years taking care of Annie. There was no journeying back to her “self.” Then when Annie died, Mom became a full-time caregiver of my dad whose needs were escalating because of Alzheimer’s.

I think it’s worth noting that our civilization did not always place an emphasis on individualism, or talk much about the self. That’s a fairly new concept that showed up around the 19th century.  One of the most interesting things I did while earning my English degree was take a required series of four “Age” classes. Beginning with the Age of Faith, then the Age of Protest, followed by the Age of Ideology and ending with the Age of Uncertainty, this series of classes looked at philosophical ideas and historical events that were the cause and effect of each other and that influenced the progression of Western Civilization from the beginnings of Christianity through modern times.

For a while Christianity was the center of everything in Western Civilization. You don’t have to take my word for it, just go wandering through an art museum sometime. This reliance on faith was shaken after the 15th century when religious, intellectual, and political protests erupted. The void in ideology these protests created resulted in an age of ideology where different world views were tried out: liberalism, nationalism, and communism. But none of these filled the void of a unifying ideology that had been in operation during the age of faith. So civilization entered into an age of uncertainty. This age, exemplified by people seeking power, was destructive and dehumanizing, as evidenced by the two world wars, the rise of Facism and the Holocaust.

That’s a quick little history/philosophy review for you according to the Age classes. But the point I’m trying to make is that individualism hasn’t always been an intrinsic value of human civilization. It showed up sometime around the 19th century. We highly value individualism today. We have book shelves lined with self-fulfillment guides. We have bucket lists. We emphasize the “self.” In some ways we live in a “it’s all about me” society even though we criticize people who act like “it’s all about me.” I don’t know that I fault this drive to find, understand, and cultivate the self. I’m just not sure that it is the place where our main focus should lie.

My mom was never given the opportunity to search for her self, like Sue Monk Kidd does in Traveling with Pomegranates. It’s not like Mom  ever chose to be a caregiver her entire life. It was the life she was given and she rose to the occasion. What I wonder is, how does all this emphasis on individualism and self have any significance in the life of a caregiver, other than to cause a sense of frustration that something is missing?

My mom’s life has never been about “me.”

Here’s the thing. I’m not sure all this focus on the “self” has really gotten us that far as a society. Road rage and drug addictions come to mind. Are we really happier and better off as people?

One thing I know is, when I’m down or depressed, helping someone else or doing something for someone else helps me.

Maybe it’s not about self at all, maybe it’s about the other.

And maybe we, as a civilization, will get there someday.

What’s it all about?

I woke up this morning with the song, What’s it all about, Alfie? on auto-play in my head. It’s from the 1966 movie “Alfie,” which I’ve never seen. I was 9 years old in 1966.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure what the movie was about.

But I heard the song on the radio, and I used to play it at home on the piano (and sing along)  in high school. I loved the words to the song.

“Is it just for the moment we live?”

Sometimes, and it seems like more and more at this stage of my life, I do wonder, What’s it all about?

“And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
“Then I guess it is wise to be cruel.”

I suppose it’s natural when a person makes it to this point in their life to stop and take a look around, like a mountain climber on the pinnacle. Because, face it, at the age of 54, unless I live to be 108, I am more than halfway along this life’s journey.That puts a certain level of urgency on the choices I make about how I spend the rest of my time. Do I even have a bucket list?

“I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.”

My life’s work for many years was raising my children. Since that’s been gone, (emergency trips to Buffalo, and an occasional move in a U-haul notwithstanding), I’ve been left with something of a void or loss of purpose. I don’t think this is any different than someone who retires after working for many years. At some point most of us will have to face this turning point where we’re no longer doing what we did.

Also, at this point in my life, as happens for many of us, I have to face the changes that are naturally occurring in my birth family, my rock-solid base for so many years, and recognize that nothing lasts forever.

“I believe in love, Alfie.
“Without true love we just exist, Alfie.”

It’s unsettling for me to stand at this pinnacle and look back into the rich past and all the days I was surrounded by those I love the best. It’s unsettling to stand here and look at the open path ahead. It’s no wonder men buy little red sports cars in midlife.

“When you walk, let your heart lead the way. . .”

I still love the words to the song.

Midlife crisis ­— or bloom where you’re transplanted

If I live to the age of 90, optimistic but not unheard of, I have already passed my midlife, or halfway point of 45, by at least eight and soon to be nine years. Whatever turbulence the infamous transition through midlife was going to cause should be behind me and I should be cruising in a slow-paced, self-accepting, creative, contented and fulfilled life.

But if I don’t start calculating my midlife point until I reached adulthood, which to make the numbers simple we’ll say is at the age of 20, and if I live to be 90, I am right smack in the middle of my midlife.

I know the math can be challenging, but feel free to use a pencil and paper, or you can just trust me.

Since I’m not feeling settled-down, contented and fulfilled, I did a google search.

Don’t you just love the internet? In days gone by to obtain this information I would have had to wrap my muffler around my neck, pull on my snow boots and trudge, shivering out to the car to drive to a library, periodically swiping the fogged up windshield with a Taco Bell napkin I located on the floor of the passenger seat until the snail-paced heater and defroster kicked into gear.  At the library I would have to stand in a puddle of dirty water as the gray snow sludge melted from my boots, and search through the card catalog file, which might take quite a while depending how clever I was at searching for the right words and whether I could read the worn-off labels on the little wooden drawers or not. (I have to admit; there was something charming about those wooden chests full of little labeled wooden drawers.) Does anybody know what I am rambling on about?

Back to the point. Sitting in the warmth and comfort of my study, watching the light snowfall drift down outside the window, my internet search for midlife crisis led me to some interesting information about not only midlife (http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/midlife-crisis-opportunity) but also human development which I am sharing, in part, with you below.

“Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages.” http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/psychosocial.htm

The following are excerpts from Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart found here: http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm

“Infancy (birth to 18 months): . . .Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.

Early Childhood (2 to 3 years): . . . Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.

Preschool (3 to 5 years): . . . Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.

School Age (6 to 11 years): . . .Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.

Adolescence (12 to 18 years): . . .Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.

Yound Adulthood (19 to 40 years): . . .Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.

Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years): . . .Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.

Maturity (65 to death) . . .Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.”

Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, I wish you success.

Bushes growing through the red rock of Sedona Arizona - 2002