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It was just supposed to be a nice, easy day at the park. I had been looking forward to taking my daughter to this particular park ever since the warmth of spring had arrived and flowers had started to bloom. I had picked out an easy hike, even for a 3-year old. Sure, there were a few hills, but nothing major. Anyway, the pay-off was huge– a gorgeous waterfall that cascaded into a pool, surrounded by the soft beauty of maple and oak trees. I was confident my daughter would do just fine, and she did. However, I didn’t factor my own physical stamina into the equation. So, as we started up the first hill, I was startled by how out of breathe I felt. My heart pounded hard inside my chest, my calf muscles started to twinge.. and ouch, what was that? Oh crud– that was my back.
As I plodded along, it became apparent that my physical health had taken a serious turn for the worse in recent years. When I was younger (pre-marriage, pre-kids), I would have never imagined the physical aches and pains I now put up with every single day. Of course, there are many ways in which my imagined life ‘in the middle’ differs greatly from the reality I now live with. Can you relate?
I mean, you never expected life was going to be easy. However, you also never thought it would be this hard. The thing is, somewhere between ‘Congratulations, go forth and do great things,’ and ‘Welcome to your golden years, kick your feet up and relax,’ there seems to be an awful lot of, ‘Well that didn’t turn out the way I imagined.’
How do you know you are managing life ‘in the middle?’
You flip through your calendar and realize you haven’t met up with a friend for a decent conversation (outside of Facebook) in months.
2. Physical Health
It’s getting more and more difficult to actively play with your kids. Maybe your knees are shot, or your back. You push yourself a little too far and as you catch your breathe, you remember fondly the stamina and strength you had just a few years ago.
3. Stamina and Energy
You are tired. You’re tired all of the time. Sleep doesn’t really help. It just takes the edge off. It isn’t even that kind of tired. You’re just… weary. Weary from the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, or the three birthday parties you have to get presents for, or the fact that the dog just barfed all over your newly steam cleaned carpet…. you’re weary.
4. Romance and Passion
You go on dates with your husband or significant other and the two of you have settled into a pretty comfortable place. However, when a ‘Facebook Memory’ pops up with a photo of the two of you splashing around in the ocean, you are reminded that your relationship used to have passion. You used to be fun!
5. Your Career
Your job is ok, but it ain’t great. You’ve been there long enough to have collected a few big wins, but it seems like an eternity before you are even eligible to meet with the retirement counselor. In the meantime, you have to endure an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings, posturing, ‘urgent’ actions, and the annual waiting game to see who will get a promotion, an award, or a bonus. You’d love to quit but binge-watching Netflix doesn’t pay the mortgage, or your kid’s college tuition.
Speaking of which, finances are…. hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t talk about this one. Let’s just say it is hard to juggle braces, travel soccer, and your 11-year old’s data plan, with the fact that you just found out your sewage line is busted.
The beginnings of life are exciting, and the endings are meant to be savored. But what about this thing called middle age? Are we meant to tolerate or merely suffer through the middle of life in hopes that relief is ahead? Or, can we find a way to look for joy, excitement, peace, and contentment even when the life swirling around us is mundane, chaotic, isolated, and even a little sad?
If you are in the middle of life, I think you know the answer. Middle age straddles the excitement of youth and the ease of the golden years. Those of us ‘in the middle’ know enough to savor the one, while seeing glimpses of the other in the not too distant future. This can be a huge gift.
The gift of middle age.
The gift of middle age is that we can find contentment in the mundane. We can embrace joy through the tears. We lean in to the chaos and relish its excitement. We take solace in the isolation and use it to re-center.
So, yeah. I overexerted myself on that spring hike with my daughter. But do you want to know a secret?
It was soooo worth it!
We made it to the waterfall and I as carefully sat down on a fallen log near the water’s edge, I couldn’t help but smile. My daughter was having so much fun! Her joy lightened my load. So, we lingered. And as she started gathering pebbles to throw into the pool, I closed my eyes and drank in the sound of the rushing water.
I might be ‘in the middle,’ but the uphill climb is over. Going down is easier.
And either way, there is always Advil.