An Ode to Mid-Life.
My mid-40’s have come like a wrecking ball. 15 years ago I heard older women I respect talk about mid-life.
“All that energy you have right now, say goodbye!”
“Don’t be shocked when your belly grows and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“The opinions of others will stop stressing you out.”
“Get ready for some stiff joints."
“You’ll get more comfortable apologizing, you’ve been wrong too many times.”
“50 friends texting you non-stop is no longer cool.”
“Friday nights are spent falling asleep on the couch watching Parenthood.”
Each one of them kindly took a flashlight and lit a small path for me. I can list the names of those who have handled aging with grace. And now, here I am. Right in the middle of it and unsure of how to be. I surmise a few things: Acceptance is brave; self-reflection, necessary; companionship helps normalize the process. Maybe my name will make my list.
The official title for this mid-life marker: “Dawn’s Big Reset.” That’s what it is. It’s halftime, a regroup; time to take inventory of the previous plan, re-work it, and draw up a new spreadsheet. This point on my life map is both intoxicating and unnerving. In a culture that obsesses on youth, I do a mini cheer each morning with my aching back thanking the good Lord I'm no longer in my 20’s. I knew so little. I lacked valuable experiences and milestones then. I cared about the silliest things. Those insecurities that would tick tock in my brain have been suffocated by the wonder of life, friendships rooted in trust, and simple, ordinary glories. I would never turn the clock back.
The first half of life is a rough outline. Contemplating my past from my now longer-view is like re-reading a paper I wrote in high school. It was brilliant and insightful; I mastered quality metaphors and created a nice flow…or so I thought. Lord have mercy. My ego was much stronger than my product. God knows how to handle our lives when he puts us on the wheel and throws us, like clay, into a rare shape. Without being aware of it, I began as all humans do, to dress myself in a skin that wasn’t mine. To prove and pine, to gain a name and affirmation. Like the strain of a full-time, exhausting job, I was a the CEO of a the “Dawn Production.” Not a complete fabrication, and not at all intentional. But I discovered what got a response and worked hammer and nail to assemble an image respect-worthy.
However, the facade was a sneaky thief. I got lost in the waves of who I was and wasn’t in the meaningless attempt to find the best version of me for everyone else. And sadly, everyone else began to work for me. Humbling to admit, and oh so subtle to name. I became a consumer of sorts. This is what happens to all of us as we grow up and into ourselves. This is the natural experience of identity development. But thankfully, the older I get, the more I shed the skins that were never really meant for me.
The tricky reality is, the real me, and the fake me look alike. Strengths started to express themselves more as weaknesses when left unguarded, and un-surrendered (here is a good example of a made up word, but the only one that works--my weaknesses, when surrender to the Spirit, are useful and holy). What was compassion mirrored co-dependency. What was kindness and sacrifice turned to control. Our strengths morph, unawares, into creatures of darkness. Well meaning, good intentions start showing some unexpected and destructive product. The result is burn-out, exhaustion and confusion. Next stop: identity crisis.
The late poet John O' Donohue says it well,
“You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up To all the small miracles you rushed through.”
A crisis can be uncomfortable, like resetting a broken bone to stop it from growing sideways. Strangely, I welcome this crisis. A taking off and putting on. The restoring of my hectic soul. The work of angels over me after being pummeled by demons. Fatigue from years of pleasing has robbed me of joy and purpose. It robbed those around me from knowing the peaceful and content person that had gotten lost in all the layers. Digging out the root takes time. But the Creator God is faithful to do it, gently, with patience and precision. I will hurt others less and I will be less susceptible to hurt. I will live centered, with eyes fixed on someone bigger than me, a stable bedrock. The dramatic rising and falling will settle down to a steady and calm. God will finish what he started when I was a kid. He will dismantle all the entanglements from the first half of this life and set me ablaze in my old skin, made new. This is redemption. Sometimes it is difficult to see until you are a ways down the path.
John O' Donohue says it best again from his poem Matins:
"Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten the shore of dawn.
The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to colour…
I arise today..."
Be brave as your days turn into years. Let the shackles fall off and let God birth you anew. It's so much easier to breathe.