Of Sports Cars and Trophy WivesSome people take middle age as a time to panic. They look back at where they've been, and ahead to where they want to go. Many don't think the past looks very pretty and their future is coming up fast - like a big truck with bad brakes. They begin to think, "if only I had..." or "how am I ever going to be able to...".
Then, they fall apart.
They buy a little red sports car, get a boob job, or choose a pneumatic trophy wife. They get hair transplants and work out at the gym. All the while they're trying to figure out how to hide in plain sight - away from the aging process and the death that comes to everyone. They don’t know what else to do beside panic. It seems so natural to them.
It doesn't seem natural to me. I'm not waiting for my sports car to arrive or picking out a new trophy wife or new boobs for Mrs. Poobah or myself. I'm not in a panic. It isn't so bad being grey and nearly bald. My glasses allow me to see 20/40, and I can live with an ever-expanding waistline. I figure that's the way of things so who am I to fight it? Besides, my butt is too big to fit into the finely tooled, but oh-so snug, seat of a sports car. And for the life of me, I wouldn't know what to talk about with a trophy wife anyway. New boobs perhaps?
No, rather than a panic I feel more...suspended.
I'm sure the feeling comes from being in the middle. The classic analogy is a tunnel - far enough from the beginning to lose the light, far enough from the end so I can't quite make it out.
I'm in the tunnel. It's dark and I'm trying to get my bearings. I know from past experiences what things not to do, but like everyone else, I have no experience of the future. The difference is that the young assume the future. In the middle you're old enough to realize that isn't very productive. By the end - at least I’m told - you begrudgingly accept things. Perhaps it's the one truth no one figures out until they die.
Though I'm in the tunnel, I'm not scared. Like a well-trained spelunker, the dark isn't such a mysterious place. I'm used to not knowing what's going on. I'm used to carefully going about my work in the dark, feeling the walls, searching for bits of light to go to, and avoiding the sharp drops in the floor. The dark is where most of us spend our lives. And, like most cave dwellers, our sight eventually adjusts so we can make out enough to pick our way through. It just takes us a little longer.
One of the consequences of getting older is a certain slacking of intensity. I'm not sure that it disappears so much as you begin to take it for granted. When you're young, everything is intensity. You assume that it'll always be there. You don't invent ways to ignite it or sustain it. You just enjoy it and "know" that it will always be there. One day you wake up and realize, "You know, I'm not intense about much anymore. There isn't much to really be passionate about." You see all the things that should breathe intensity, but they're only the outward face, not the intensity itself.
You realize that intensity is an illusive thing. It pretends it's there in the form of some great accomplishment, or a wonderful child, or a great marriage. It throws things out to see and move toward, but it silently steps out of the way just as you're ready to seize it. When it does, you're left feeling a little empty. Not sad. Not happy. Not much of anything. Just empty.
I'm coming to realize the challenge of middle age is how to keep yourself from being distracted from the trappings of intensity. The challenge is how to seize the intensity itself. And, having done that, learn how to process it into something else, something more useful. The challenge is to learn - not take it for granted - but learn the myriad tricks to slow it down so it can’t jump away from you.
As I start that task I imagine myself a little like an empty warehouse. My stock was sold off and there's nothing left but a big, high-ceilinged place. There's a well-worn wooden floor and ancient rafters over my head. In the corners light filters in through grimy windows and dust particles play in the light. My challenge is to sweep the joint out and knock some holes through the old brick to put in some bigger windows. I’ll swing open the heavy front doors and start bringing in the new merchandise. I'll put in new shelves, maybe even a computerized inventory system. If it works it'll let me know when the stocks of intensity are getting low. I can go out and get some more.
That way, I'll always feel a little more full.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, April 26, 2006