The latest Atlantic Monthly has a cover story by Jonathan Rauch regarding midlife crises. He describes his own mid-40s time of frustration, and sums up the experience this way:
“Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie, the greatest writer I have known, told me: ‘Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.’ In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned.”
That’s about right, at least for me. But life in my sixties has brought other realities.
In my fifties, a big recognition began that life has a definite horizon. That means that when you make a career choice, it might well be your last one. Is this my last book? Moving to a new place, or even redecorating the kitchen, bears something of that finality. The horizon is not endless. I cannot see exactly where it lies, but I know it is there, that I will reach it, that it is not an eternity distant as it seemed to be when I was young. This makes me more serious and reflective. I want to live my life well; it is my last chance.
What I’m discovering in my sixties is a very distinctive sense of—well, call it serenity. I have less drive, and a lot less ambition. I don’t care as much. I’m less easily distressed. I’m better able to wait on things: whether family issues, or lines in the grocery store. I’m more content to watch other people lead the way, even when I think they are mucking it up.
The flip side of this coin is a pervasive sense of loss. None of my closest friends is yet gone, but my parents (and Popie’s) are, along with most of their generation, some of whom I knew well. Some of my peers have died, and it’s quite clear that this is a trend.
I’m in good health, but I can’t help noticing physical loss. I don’t like to hike as far, I run more slowly, I wake up stiff or sore just from cooking dinner. In every way, I’m less physically vital—and this, too, is a trend.
This adds up to an internal sense of loss. In some ways, it’s just that I miss the drive I once had. I miss caring about my future. I miss ambition.
I live with an awareness that life is slowly leaking out of me.
So, I live with my internal thermostat set at 62. It’s a little cold, but it’s not so uncomfortable I want to get up and change it. I can pull a blanket up. I’m happy enough with my book. This can look and feel like serenity. Or, it can look and feel like mild depression.
And this, too, is surely a trend.
What am I to do with this reality? It’s not something I expect to rise above. It’s rather something I hope to inhabit in the best way possible. I’m still exploring what that means. I think some of these are involved:
–learning to number my days, so that I don’t let them flood past without noticing or appreciating.
–learning to pray.
–learning to love.
I value your thoughts.