Friday, March 13, 2009

Birthday Month Musings

As I state in my profile, I am in the “second half” of my life now. I put it in there because it is an important part of the story. Obviously it describes many of the outer circumstances of my life—John is close to retiring, our youngest kid is in college, we’ve got two grandchildren, etc. But what I intend by calling out the fact is to be conscious of the spiritual, or psychological shift that “second half of life” implies. For me, that shift has been huge. And, of course, it is still going on, still unfolding.

During my thirties, I recoiled when my decade was referred to as “middle-aged.” Even now, I think of people in their thirties as simply adults, not middle-aged adults. In my forties, however, I’ll admit it. I am middle-aged. I’ll say it out loud to anyone, although it took me until forty-five to do so. I felt great when I hit forty—like it really was “the new thirty.” But, as I turned forty one, then two, then three, it dawned on me that time was moving in only one direction. Forty was not the new anything. It was forty, and then comes fifty, and so on.

This realization caused me some anxiety for a few years. Part of it was vanity. I caught sight of myself in the mirror in certain harsh lighting and would gasp, Oh my god! What the hell?! Even now, I give myself “facelifts” by pulling everything back with my hands. I turn to John and ask, “There, doesn’t that look better?” He rolls his eyes and says no, it looks freakish and that he’ll divorce me if I ever do anything like that. I won’t do anything like that and not just because I don’t have the money. But given our culture, it takes a certain vigilance to keep sane about the physical signs of aging, especially—do I even have to say it?—for women.

The other part of middle age that was causing me some anxiety, though was harder to define. It was a restless feeling. Sometimes it was despair and often it was frustration. Over what, I couldn’t say exactly. One day, while getting a book from the library for a project at work, I saw another book—the one I was really meant to get—on a nearby shelf. (This is my secret method for finding a book that I need to read. I will wander the library and browse along the shelves until I find it, Bingo!) The title was Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, by James Hollis. Now, get this: I still wasn’t sure that I should be reading a book with that title. I mean, second half of life? Am I there yet? Ha ha.

Indeed, I was there already, and the book changed my life, or the second half of it, as it were. Hollis is a post-Jungian, depth psychologist. I've heard him speak and he is one of those people who speak like they write with clear, flowing, packed prose. He offers a lot to think about. I won't try to summarize the book. It has been a while since I've read it. One of the main ideas though is that the second half of life is an opportunity, one that you're lucky to have, to contemplate and more fully embody the meaning of your life. It is a chance to become more spiritual and less material in the sense that once free of the need to establish material security, you become freer to inquire inward. All of that is relative of course, but in general, I think, true.

After reading the Hollis book and delving into my own life more deeply I have become increasingly more comfortable with aging. I'm very happy to be almost 47. (Like somebody said, "Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.") Knowing a little more about the task of the second half of life makes me excited for the journey. I get to keep practicing!

Moving out here was an outward shift that mirrored the inner one. Or, maybe it was a catalyst to the inner changes. Yes, moving was the gesture. The experience is the catalyst for the life I now create.


Heather said...

Happy almost birthday Meg. Have a wonderful time creating the rest of your life! (By the way, I love the new profile picture of you on the Massey-Ferguson. Thumbs up, baby!)

Jean-Pierre said...

Happy early birthday wishes to an old (or middle-aged) soul in a young body. This farm will keep you young.

Meg said...

Aw, thanks, guys.

Heather: Yee haw!

JP: *smooch

Middle Way said...

Hi Meg!

Thank you for sharing your life insights and book recommendation. I just got hold of a copy and am very excited to read it.

Have a wonderful birthday and trip!