When it hits a man in southern California, he buys a Corvette and moves to a condo at the beach. When it hits a woman, she leaves her family (at least partially) to take creative writing classes at UCLA or to produce artistic masterpieces at a newly renovated loft downtown. But what happens when it hits a happily married woman with no creative aspirations? How does she cope with mid-life crisis?
Frequently, people watch others and vow, "I'm not going to allow my children to do that" or "I'm not going to be that kind of parent." This lasts until their child reaches the same age as the one under observation. Then they often change their tune. They realize they are confronting new challenges that require fresh strategies. Their previous scorn for those other parents is replaced by understanding.
Because it is the subject of so many bad jokes, a mid-life crisis has become embarrassing to admit.
So too with mid-life crisis. Because it's the subject of so many bad jokes, because some people behave in really crazy ways, it has become taboo, forbidden to acknowledge, embarrassing to admit.
But, like it or not, it has a way of sneaking up on you. No matter how much you thought it was only for "others," no matter how much you thumbed your nose at them, it could hit you too. Sometime in your 40s (more or less) you may wake up and say, "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?" You may experience mild depression, an emptiness inside. You want to run away – but where?
The questions flash before you: "Did I accomplish what I set out to do when I was 25? Am I glad about that? If not, why not? Do I have inspiring yet realistic goals to get me through the next 40 years (please God)? Should I just take Prozac?"
Underlying it all is the ultimate issue, the issue no one wants to confront – death. Your own mortality stares you in the face. Gone is the feeling of invincibility of younger years. It seems that every week a friend of mine loses a parent. It seems that every week I hear more news of disease and accident – and death. The world closes in and terror awakens.
Yes my trust in God should alleviate this fear. But trust is hard to develop, and hard to sustain.
A MODERN PHENOMENON
In a society where people's life spans were shorter, or in a less affluent society, human beings didn't have the luxury of indulging in this type of introspection. Life was too short or too busy. But with a comfortable income (or with a windfall from a dot.com company), there's time to stop and think. There's time to indulge.
And so, I've been indulging. I've cajoled my husband into spending hours discussing my life's meaning with me -- of course, over coffee at Starbucks. I've been buttonholing friends to see how they're coping. I've been talking and talking and talking.
Now, of course, it's good to want to make your life more meaningful. And of course it requires thought. And it's not easy. But talk can be a substitute for action. As it says in the "Ethics of the Fathers": "Righteous people say a little and do a lot."
I felt very virtuous about it until I stopped to count how many sentences began with the word "I."
I've certainly erred in the other direction. And I felt very virtuous about it until I stopped to count how many sentences began with the word "I" and how many times I used the word "me."
I have to admit it was fun, a sort of self-generating therapy. But "self" is the keyword here. It was all about me. It was totally self-indulgent. Now how does a woman with nine children have the time to be self-indulgent? Isn't that an oxymoron? Witness the power of the ego. I found the time. After all, this was a priority.
A BALANCED FOCUS
I'm not suggesting we shouldn't introspect. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't find meaningful work. I'm suggesting that there's a perverse pleasure in the agony of mid-life crisis, in wallowing in the angst. And I'm suggesting it's mostly ego. I was sort of shocked to discover the size and need of my ego and how those needs only grow in proportion to the attention given them. I realized that the more I talked the more paralyzed I became.
I wouldn't say I'm through it (I enjoy all these long discussions about me too much to end it so quickly). But I'm enough on the other side to be embarrassed by my own vanity, to have some chagrin about my self-centered behavior. I'm enough on the other side to recognize that I just need to keep plowing ahead, focusing on others and on issues outside myself. And to understand that this is where I will ultimately find peace and satisfaction.
I learned the lesson that too much inward focus can be stifling.
I'm enough on the other side not to be distracted by that gnawing voice inside me. There's just too much to do; there's no time to keep obsessing. I guess I learned the lesson that too much inward focus can be stifling. It inhibited my ability to act and my ability to interact with others. It inhibited my ability to really grow.
I think when you begin to act, when you reach out and care, you find the solutions better, you feel more energized. Otherwise you spin around and around on tip of your ego. And it's dizzying and confusing and you tend to make choices that take you out of reality. (I was tempted for awhile to just throw in the towel and hole up in a hotel for a few days with some good movies!)
But the Almighty has been good to me. I have a house full of activity and a community full of opportunities. I can't lie in bed all day no matter how great the temptation. I'm forced to act. I'm forced to ignore the prophets of doom waging war inside me. I'm forced to plow through my fears and anxieties because there's homework to do and dinner to get on the table. And a friend on bed-rest who needs my help. And a class to teach.
So I'm moving forward, I hope. Maybe I won't find that magic answer, that all-consuming passion. But maybe I'll still be able to make a difference in my smaller community and my larger world. NIKE is on to something -- yes, just do it, but do it for others.