Maybe it’s a product of realizing that what poet Mary Oliver calls your “one wild, precious life” is passing by in a swift blur, or maybe it’s just the wisdom of age, but somewhere along the line you step back, take a look at the big picture and think, Wow. This is my life, my time, my one guaranteed ride on this beautiful planet. Who the heck is driving the bus?
Next stop? Midlife crisis.
Let’s rephrase that, shall we? Let’s call it life catharsis, instead, since it can happen to any of us at any time regardless of our age. Maybe it’s a brush with ill health or the loss of a loved one or a cherished relationship. Maybe it’s losing a job and a home and the image we’ve built around them.
Catharsis is the releasing or purging of emotion, historically associated with Greek tragedies. But the tragedy doesn’t have to be part of it, or at least doesn’t have to be epic in proportion. Maybe the catharsis is triggered by a simple wake up call, or by simply waking up one morning thinking, What am I doing here?
More importantly – and hopefully this is the next question, not what shiny car shall I buy or with whom shall I cheat on my spouse – What would I rather be doing instead?
I’ll be 45 this summer. I was orphaned at 39. Funny, that phrase, but there is something inherently freeing – though admittedly painful – about being “nobody’s daughter”. Once the edges of grief were worn down, I realized that I didn’t have to please anyone anymore. It’s a child’s natural instinct to try to win a parent’s approval (when they aren’t trying their darnedest to piss the parent off, that is) and I think we slowly but surely let that bleed out into a pool around us. Please the teacher, the neighbor who bakes you cookies, the girl scout leader, the friends, the popular kids, the lovers, the boss… You get the picture. Pretty soon you’re up to your neck, drowning in the expectations and projections of others.
Then one day you wake up, wise up and say, Screw that.
I’m pleasing myself, from here on out.
It’s a rush. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. It’s like a snake shedding its skin, feeling so uncomfortable and vulnerable, or a caterpillar climbing into a cocoon not knowing if it will make it through the metamorphosis. But what’s on the other side? Wings. Shiny new scales. Endless, unimaginable possibilities.
I can’t tell you what the journey might look like for you, but I will tell you this. There will be resistance. People you would expect to support you will rush at you with pins, eager to pop your happy bubble, and not because they’re mean (though some of them may be). Some of them may be afraid of losing you, or not liking the person you’re about to become and some of them are afraid of change, period. Others might be choking on the dust of their own neglected dreams and the idea – the possibility – of seeing you achieve yours makes them feel like a failure. It doesn’t matter. None of that is yours. Neither is the negativity, or the pessimism or the endless deflections, distractions and destructive rhetoric that will likely get chucked at you. (It’s all as relevant as monkey poop, but just as smelly and tricky to dodge.)
Like I said, it doesn’t matter.
This life is yours. You should spend it as you wish (with the usual caveat that you shouldn’t be breaking laws or causing harm to others). You only have one chance to live this particular lifetime. If you have a dream that’s grounded in real possibility and the guts to work at it until it comes true? Go for it! Damn the torpedoes – and the naysayers – roll up your sleeves and dig in. Grab life by the lapels and drag it in for a long, deep, mind-blowing kiss.
And, most importantly? Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do.