The Midlife On-Ramp
It’s funny how age sneaks up on you. This is not new news, of course—I remember that my parents were always talking about it; they were unusually open in discussing life’s essential confoundery, the way one is constantly craning one’s neck, trying (and failing) to get the big view. But nonetheless, there’s no way to personally prepare for aging's eventual descent.
These days I am feeling age. Not feeling old, but feeling the years lived and collected, like dust bunnies under the basement staircase or layers of paint on woodwork. The last of my shiny and new is disappearing, both inside and out, and I’ve been surprised at the emotional weight of that shift.
When my ex-husband and I were breaking up, eight years ago, I said to him one night when we were feeling more sad than mad, “You took my young. No one will ever have that again and now you are taking it away from me,” by leaving with his memories of us, which we would no longer share in casual banter or knowing jokes. Those wild years when you think every dream you’ve ever had will come true, when you wear clothes that raise your own eyebrows today, when the world really does feel like it belongs to you.
And today I feel that I belong to the world.
I welcome this change—as I finally know that no matter who or what I am, no matter what kind of day I’m having, I belong—but it still has its embedded loss. Because I see not only myself more clearly with age, but also the world. I carry sadness that there is so much abuse and hate in the human experience. I feel heartbreak that my voice isn’t loud enough to help people to truly understand deep within that wishing and insisting others be like themselves is the most egotistical, cruel and small thing a human can do with his or her intentions. I know why people are seduced by fear’s siren call—the way it can so mysteriously invert itself from inside us and turn outward, appearing as false strength and certainty—but I wish I could convince them that truth, even with its sometimes cold comforts, is a better companion for this journey.
But those are my large, grandiose desires. (Why else be a human if other than to have grandiose idea and desires?)
I have small ones, too: Please let my son find his way in life, locate his tribe and make the right choices when I am no longer here to guide him. Please let me live long enough to see some of his own successes, whatever they may be. Please allow me the luxury of living a few years in the countryside, so I can be close to nature and walk many miles of wandering pathways through nearby woods to balance out all these years I've lived in the mazes of New York.
And the other night, I heard this desire, for the first time: Please let me die without too much pain.
I truly have never been afraid of death, a strange gift I am often grateful for; the end of my own existence doesn't worry me, except as it relates to my son. But I am realizing I am now completely afraid of dying, especially “after a long but brave battle” with fill-in-the-blank.
Yesterday, I went to see my Ob/Gyn, the woman who brought my son into this world, and with whom I have become great friends. She talked me through my divorce (when I told her at my six-month postnatal checkup that my husband was ending our marriage, she said, “Oh, no, you too?”), through depression, through crazy-busy all-consuming career times, the illness and death of my parents. And yesterday she said, “I’ve been looking at your records and I think you should see a genetic counselor.” Because of the cancers in my family background, and the heart disease, and the diabetes and and and…
And I just thought: And so it begins, like this.