“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain;
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today;
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you;
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
– “Time,” Pink Floyd (1973)
“You know what you need to do,” he commanded.
“Write something happy tonight.”
That’s what Beckett told me.
And why shouldn’t I?
After three hours with the kids and two of their best friends crashing in the waves at Tempe’s historic water park – Big Surf – what horrible, negative thing could you possibly write?
It only takes a day off in the company of your kids and their friends to realize: this is the golden outcome.
Forget that when we came home, another friend came over, and the back room was all full of laughs, and smiles and people who don’t delve too deep into what they’ve done, where they’ve been.
That’s a bonus.
Those are healthy children, filling my home.
Yay for me.
* * *
I wrote that intro a few days ago.
But nothing has fundamentally changed.
We spent a rare night tonight in the company of close friends, gathered around a movie theater bar to celebrate a birthday.
This friend has had her own share of adversity lately; none of which is my business to share.
But needless to say, there is something fundamental about breaking routine, of gathering with those whom you care for and love, that can lift whatever dark cloud you’re taking shelter under and offer an alternate perspective.
I see this everywhere. In the gathering Heidi took part in this weekend, to celebrate another of our dearly-loved friends’ 40th. In the aforementioned journey to Big Surf.
Cast aside the chores, the responsibilities, the demands, sometimes; and just live.
The rewards can be worthy. And unexpected.
* * *
I want to switch timescales again.
Let’s talk about last night, when just before bed, I had a micro-epiphany.
In the summer in Phoenix, the term “micro” is reserved for one very special, very unique phenomenon.
Get your minds out of the gutter. In this case micro means quite the opposite.
Microbursts are isolated cells within a larger desert thunderstorm pattern – monsoons, as we call them here – that generate hurricane- or tornado-like effects.
We’re talking 70+ mile per hour winds, torrential downpours, repeated cloud-to-ground lightning that can level buildings, topple massive trees and create softball-sized hail – oftentimes without any warning greater than 30 minutes.
One recently tore down a towering tree on my sister’s property – crushing a block fence – and ripped a metal framed gate straight out of a concrete wall.
Phoenicians both desire and fear these storms. The reprieve they offer from the unending onslaught of dry air and 100+ degree temperatures makes this place livable. The damage they incur when they become intense over our homes is both costly and potentially deadly.
My micro-epiphany, though, was neither costly, nor deadly.
But I think it hits on a strategy for life – a decision point – for those of us nestled firmly in the transition of midlife.
So, hear me out.
* * *
I posit that life is an arc.
On the upward slope of the arc, we define who we are.
We do this through the raw, innocent exposure of childhood – in which, at first, we absorb all we see, unquestioned as fact. Later, in our teenage years, we still absorb, but question.
Then we set out to make ourselves. Through college and/or career, we identify the things we care about, that we advocate for, that we become quote-unquote experts in.
We build careers, we find partners, we attempt to climb ladders based on those skill sets. We raise families and create social circles based upon the values by which we define ourselves.
And then, sometimes, for many of us – we hit a brick wall.
We raise our kids, we attain some level of career stability and the funnel narrows.
We can raise our kids no more successfully, the rate of return on becoming experts in our field shrinks and the opportunity to reach higher levels of “success” (yes, that’s in quotes intentionally) – in raising our kids, in getting promoted to a higher-level positions, even, perhaps, of having more or better friends – gets smaller.
And so we get stuck in mid-life limbo.
Where do I go? What do I do to fuel this “Type-A personality need” to always push to another level of self-improvement?
Some of us will ultimately find levels of satiety in tangential pursuits – learning about new things just to learn about them, readjusting expectations based on readily available data sets about where we can expect to be at 40, 50, 60 and beyond.
But not most of us.
We’re deeply emotional beings.
And damn it, we want shit.
It’s in our nature.
But here’s where the arc comes in.
* * *
The arc reaches its culmination, like a roller coaster, right at the midway point – at that place where the chains stop pulling you against gravity and you give into the forces of nature that will ultimately dictate the rest of your journey.
You have two choices: you accept the experience that follows and enjoy it – an experience that’s not really uncontrolled (after all, a team of engineers built this ride with a high-level of predictability based on their knowledge of the laws of physics) or you succumb to the fear of the unknown that lies ahead and a) either never ride the roller coaster to begin with or b) suffer through it because your kid(s)/friend(s) demanded it.
I know of few people that after careful analysis wouldn’t agree that accepting the twists and turns of the ride isn’t a better experience than never riding at all.
That said, there will always be outliers.
If a roller-coaster isn’t your thing, imagine anything with an apex: a night out with friends where – after dinner and the apres-cocktail – it’s time to go home; or a project at work where, once you reach the pinnacle of the lift, the rest is just the allowing the predefined processes and the resultant execution to get you to the end.
The point is: you work hard to get to a certain point and then you let go.
You trust that the work you put in – the really, heavy initial lift – will get you to the finish line.
And when you accept that, you stop devoting excessive energy and care to a process that has so much momentum it’s almost impossible to stop or alter.
When you accept this, you rightfully ask yourself: Why am I devoting some much energy to trying to change something for which the momentum has already been built?
Give in. Enjoy the ride. Force equals mass times acceleration.
That’s a universal law of nature.
Few fight those and win.
* * *
But I want to get a bit more practical.
Theory is theory. But the shit we say; and the way we live by the things we say is far more important.
So let me told you what I tell Heidi:
“I think we approach this arc, this pinnacle – we can spend years there – where we’ve made tremendous forward progress, and then we stall.
But we know we’re at mid-life; the windows of opportunity dwindle and we face a real choice that defines whether we find happiness or whether we find ourselves in constant conflict in our fading years.
Either we embrace that we are but inconsequential blips in the universe’s grand scale and we accept that long after we die, our lives will likely be unremembered and unremarkable in the scheme of things.
Or we fight it, and keep trying to attain things for which the odds become exponentially stacked against us. Or we fight for control over things of which we have none. Same difference.
In short, we choose to keep striving to define ourselves by self-defined accomplishments or we live in the momentum we’ve created – which at its core means living in the moment.
If we choose to accept this idea of our inconsequential-ness, we place less gravity on what comes next.
We’re freer to live in what is and make choices with less fear of consequence.
We accept the benefits of our steady job without pining for title or power.
We accept our children, the choices they make and their imperfections.
We acknowledge our own imperfections and grow more comfortable with them.
We take the pressure off of ourselves to be perfect and simple reprioritize to just be.”
That’s what I said. Though maybe thought out and typed, it’s a little more concise.
Practically, this can be the freedom to just do the job to the best of your ability, with a commitment level that provides work-life balance (not consecutive 60-hour weeks). Or, it can mean finding the fearlessness to finally say what you want to say … or do what you really want to do.
It can mean trusting in the wisdom or your children to blaze their own path without the heavy-handed guidance the toddler, adolescent and (sometimes, depending on your level of tolerance) teenage years require.
It can mean being more accepting of ideas – even those threatening to your values – from those around you.
It can be all of those things, some of them, or some variation of them at different levels. I can’t prescribe the right formula.
What I can tell you is that fighting Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion (mass times acceleration equals force), is an equation for failure.
Those who age gracefully and in harmony with themselves do so because they accept certain rules; and reconfigure their mindset to live healthily within them.
* * *
Back to the movie night, for a second.
All those couples. Some married for decades; some not so long; some with children on their way to college; some with children on the way to birth.
The ages? Varied. But not all that far apart.
The point is: the apex doesn’t come at a defined year. For every person, the “time to reach pinnacle” is different.
One of those friends came up to me after the movie (“Tommy Boy,” by the way. Harkins’ Tuesday Night Classics series), and said, “I’ve been reading your blog.”
“I think it’s incredible what you do,” she said, adding a comment about how she saw it as brave (although, maybe that wasn’t the right word, she said) to be so vulnerable. “I think it helps people.”
It was a long journey for me to accept that. You should know that. But I believe it now.
And I say that not as some “oh, hey gurrrrl, look at me bein’ all brave and what not” statement, but to express that sometimes, embracing what we know we should be is a long – and often shame-filled journey.
My writings have a miniscule audience in the grand scheme of things. It’s friends, people around Tempe, some folks back home in the Northeast and a bunch of coworkers.
Part of fulfilling one of my core life goals – promoting the mission of Tempe Community Action Agency and easing the plight of the working poor we serve – means letting anyone in who takes any interest in me.
And that means letting just about anyone be a friend on social media.
In the corporate sphere that can be a … um, recipe for disaster.
So, for years, I darted around the edges of safer topics. And sometimes, in a late night slip, let something from the core just sit out there and then, in meetings if someone asked, mitigated my coworkers’/supervisors’ alarmed/shocked/surprise response to a blog to make everyone feel safe.
But I’m at the top now; sitting in the front seat, waiting as the last of the cars get yanked to the highest point of the coaster. The brake is about to release.
Gravity is about to take hold.
And I’m okay with that.
Everybody throw your hands up and get ready to scream – in joy, in fear.
It’s all downhill from here.