Midlifery

For months now I’ve been simultaneously not writing and wanting to write, as life swirled around me and time felt packed tight with the thousand things we all do to keep going. For tens of weeks I have been sitting on my own shoulder, watching my feet step out in new directions, seeing through eyes that are fixed on a new horizon, whispering in my own ear, “This is worth remembering. This is where the prologue ends and the real story finally begins.” So here goes, this is where it starts.

This is a time of bravery, this midlife span where old expectations are falling away and the new ones are still taking shape. It’s a time of bravery lost, of confidence shaken and hopes dashed—but it’s also a time of bravery born from the darkness of loss and sorrow, bravery spawned in the bitterness of disappointment and nourished in the tenderness of our first adult attempts to parent ourselves. By midlife we’ve tasted enough self-loathing to last a lifetime, and begun to turn away from that putridly seductive fruit in search of what inspires and deepens and captivates us. We are finding our courage in the ashes of our adolescent dreams and saying over and over to ourselves “Why the Hell Not?”

These aren’t necessarily bad times. There are lovers and spouses and parents and children that fill our hearts, there are careers that are rewarding, and projects that command attention and devotion. There are joys large and small, challenges that exhilarate and elevate us, insights that show us who we are and what we are for. All these years that we’ve spent building and struggling and persevering are paying off. Some lives around us seem picture-perfect, balanced, uniformly functional. Others seem more precarious, more tightly-stretched, more vulnerable. The word “seem” is necessary here because the one truth we have all come to know, in the quarter-century since we reached adulthood, is that what we choose to show the world is not to be confused with what life actually is. We all know the secrets we keep, and we are wise enough to know that those around us are keeping secrets too. We also know that’s just fine—there are barely enough hours in the day to cope the truth that seethes just below the surface in our own heads, let alone in other peoples’.

Truth is the fuel for bravery. As we become able to see who we really are, as we gain enough experience and enough insight to step into our own skins, we become owners and custodians of our truth. Some of us stuff it far, far down where we think it can be safe from exposure, but we know it’s there, and while we may not be able to call it by its name, it shapes us from its hiding place. Some of us approach it like a small child approaching a strange and scary dog…one hand outstretched, head averted, toes reaching for forward traction, the other hand reaching back and holding fast to anything that feels stable. Still others of us sell it short, skimming only the sweet froth from the top and leaving untasted the dark, unfamiliar shadows underneath that make us whole and balanced. We dance around the truth, lie to it, lie about it, decorate it, ignore it, make fun of it, but it is ours. Midlife is the fulcrum of life’s teeter-totter, the long, poised moment between the uphill climb from the womb and the downhill—much faster—trot towards the end. It takes bravery to stand here, facing this most central truth, knowing it is our burden not only to carry but to integrate and understand.

Bravery and truth are the twin weapons we bring towards that good night. They are the foci of our great ellipse, shaping our wanderings into a coherent path, continually pulling us away from inattention and delusion so that we can continue our journey with integrity. Our bravery is not foolhardy by nature, although it can provoke recklessness. It is not unafraid, although it can deny the power of fear. It is the bravery of knowing there are worse things than loss, that there are worse things than pain, and that we already know that we are strong enough to bear the unbearable. By midlife we have all encountered experiences that brought us to our knees, crushed our hearts and spirits and spit us out to find our way back to the sunlight. We know how it feels to give up hope of healing and survival and to heal and survive anyway. Our courage is that of the veteran, of Priam, not Achilles. Our truth is not rooted in the world’s approval, though we may have it. Our truth is one of exploration, of inquiry, of self-knowledge and curiosity and radical acceptance rather than rejection.

As we come to know ourselves and devote ourselves to living more genuine, more courageous lives, we must consider speaking and living those lives honestly in the world. Some of us refuse to do this, hampered perhaps by shame or fear. Some of us leap headlong into new and precipitous ways of living, releasing too completely the lives we have built and the lessons they have taught us. We all struggle to discern what our responsibilities are, where our joy and our suffering are to be found, what we can afford to risk. We look around for people to share our truth with, and we consider what it means to hear another’s truth and encourage its growth. Bravery and truth can deepen and enrich existing relationships, or close those who have run their course. They can open new and exciting doors for mutual discovery in strong marriages and lifelong friendships, or they can force us to relinquish those we have clung to overlong. As we exercise our freedom to become who we are, we recognize our preferred fellow-travelers and devote ourselves to the friendships that will inform our old age. Midlife contains heartache for many of us as our youthful errors of judgment bear their inevitable fruit; illness and death brush against us; financial and professional struggles challenge our priorities; we must let go of our sense of limitless, immortal potential and seek instead to live with full and present attention right now. Bravery and truth.

©Mary Braden 2015

One Week In

Day #7.  The last day of the first week of the November Blog challenge.  So far I’m really enjoying myself.  I’m more aware all day of the thoughts passing through my head because I anticipate taking them out and looking at them again when the workday is over and I can settle down and think about what to write.  Several people have suggested that I avail myself of some of the innumerable blog prompt resources out there, but so far I like going through the day with basically no idea if or when any kind of inspiration will strike.  The whole day has a new rhythm and focus with this task waiting for me at the end of it.  I haven’t figured out very much about that yet, but in all honesty I think that’s what I enjoy most about this so far.  Something new is taking shape in the way my mind works and as long as I keep putting words on the page then I get to see how it turns out.

I’ve never really written regularly except in journals, an exercise which never lasted very long.  I’ve written to calm my nerves, to help me make decisions, as a tool in figuring out what I think or feel and why.  It’s a tool I’ve used more and more rarely as I get older, possibly because I used it when wrestling with emotional challenges, and that’s not something I do in the same way now that I did 20 years ago.   As I mentioned in a recent post, I am more able to observe my own feelings now than I was as a girl, which means that I don’t always need the artificial separation that a pen and paper afford.  What I do notice is that I do much more thinking than I used to, and that I have little to no experience writing about that.  I think this is part of what I’m supposed to be learning ]with this project.  How does one write about a thought?  Is it personal, does one own it with “I” and “mine?”  Or does one step away from it, allow it a form and sense of its own, described in third-person detachment?   What about the context?  How many details are necessary?  How much backstory?  What emotional frame is necessary, and what weight should it have?

So I get to start figuring this out, with nothing but the contents of my own head and 4 decades of experience with words.  7 days in and I can’t quite tell how I’m doing.  The words sound like me, which I think is the most authentic route to what I’m after.  The few paragraphs I’ve put together so far make sense to me, although I notice that some ideas take several tries.  I haven’t seen a pattern to those yet, but I very much suspect that there is one, and that when I recognize it, my sense of what and how to write will be enriched by that knowledge.

23 days left in the month, 23 days to watch this process at close range and see how it unfolds.  Thank you, readers, for accompanying me, for walking beside me as I essentially talk to myself aloud to see what I have to say.  Your patience is greatly appreciated.

©Mary Braden 2013

The Introvert At Home

Life can fit a lot into one day, which rocks the world of an introvert.  Today was one of those.  An hour of heartfelt spousal conversation followed by 8 hours of training at work, followed by drinks and appetizers with colleagues and then an hour at the lovely and sad viewing of a dear friend’s mother who recently died.   It’s enough to fry my single emotional neuron until it sizzles, yet so satisfying to touch all the surfaces of my world in just one day.

Coming home at the end of this day, finding my quiet home and family waiting for me, reminds me of how precious that peace truly is.  Here I get to rest my body and, more importantly, my mind.  Here I know every inch of wall and window, every loose board and squeaky hinge.  As my shoes come off and the purse gets tucked away in its corner, my brain lets go of the dust and grime of the day’s interaction and resumes the gentle hum of relaxation.

Not every day is as crazy as this one, so on many evenings I fail to appreciate the value of a warm, well-lit place to call my own.  Tonight I celebrate that value and sing it to the heavens.  What a privilege to have this tiny corner of the earth impenetrable by the outside world.  How sweet to remember all the battles fought to keep it, some barely won.  I’m not much a creature of sentiment, but I care for this tiny yellow house as passionately as I ever cared for any place in the world.  As the weather gets cold and the wind starts to whistle at night, this is a dear and welcome place to be.

I’ve lived in many places over the years, but this one has been my home the longest. This little village has seen the most difficult and humiliating chapters of my life as well as some of the most joyous.  I’ve been married here and bought a house here and watched my children grow here and mourned deaths here.  This is where I’ve made friends and lost friends, laughed and danced and howled and wept.  Home.

Tomorrow will be another day to get up and leave home to deal with the outside world.  The excitement and weariness of moving amongst people will sweep me along until at last, like being spit from the final spate of roiling rapids, I will coast peacefully to a halt and be home again.  This is a pattern I could get used to,  this gentle rhythm of days and weeks punctuated by long sleep and easy wakings.  I have called many places home over the years and loved them all.  The beauty of this one is that I have been walking through its doors for enough years now that it is second nature to me. This is the place that holds more memories for me than any other since childhood, and the one where I want to see new ones blossom.  In tomorrow’s excitement I could easily forget how fine it is to let the pressure off and put my feet up at the end of the day.  Tonight, I’m celebrating it.

©Mary Braden 2013