Middle Age Malaise
A few days ago I got in the shower and accidentally water-boarded myself. I mean it. I was so tired I stood in front of the shower head with my mouth open while water poured in. As a reasonable husband, given that torture was involved, I assumed the spouse was behind it. So I started confessing like crazy. After all, petty crimes had been committed.
“Fine! Sapporo is NOT the Kia of Asian beers,” I yelled. “It is REALLY expensive, but I like it A LOT.”
The water did not stop.
“Yes I lied! The lawnmower was working fine, but the Saints were on TV.”
Still the torture went on. I began confessing to crimes I had not committed, gurgling pitiful lies through self-inflicted mouthfuls of water.
Eventually, I woke up enough to twist my neck and the punishment stopped. But it is always dark when I get up. Sometimes, when I try to get going, I have a hard time finding the light of reason. In fact, some days I feel like I don’t ever find any light at all. I feel like I stumble around in a gray world where everything said to me sounds like that teacher from Charlie Brown. My emotions feel vanilla. My outlook on life: rocky road.
Could it be a thyroid issue? Probably not.
When I compare my life now versus how I viewed my own parents when I was a teenager, I can’t help but think I’m totally unqualified to be who I’m supposed to be. I am the adult? Are we sure? And yet, you wouldn’t know it from our kids. I’m not bragging, but I will guarantee my four children are above average and, on most fronts, will come in just shy of exceptional. They seem happy. In fact, it would be nice if one of them would do something really stupid on occasion, if only so we could be assured they actually belong to us. Even so, there are certainly worse parents out there. I see them every day.
Where do I stand as a husband? Well, I’m not the best, but I’m not the worst, either. I still get a thrill when my wife flirts with me. I help around the house and ferry the kids to their various activities. It has been a tough stretch because the wife is finishing graduate school and working full time. We are like two Exxon Valdez’s passing in the night. So, we could use more “alone” time, but I crave any time with her, and, after eighteen years of marriage, that’s got to be saying something. Hell, I love her with every ounce of my being, and that’s saying everything.
So, what about me as a person?
That’s the question I cannot answer. This is not about whether I feel happy or unhappy. I have friends with cancer. I know parents who simply tolerate their children. I see men who don’t love their wives. My blessings are many, and I appreciate each and every one.
Every morning I drive to work behind headlights. As I get close to my destination, I’m always on the lookout for a small bicycle. There is a high school student on it, riding through the rocks on the narrow shoulder of a busy two lane road. Rain, fog or shine, he’ll be out there and he’s tough to see, save a single piece of reflective tape on his backpack.
I’ve figured out that he must be an athlete, going to school early for some kind of physical conditioning. When I see him huddled over those handlebars I think about the parents who sent him along a dangerous stretch of dark road during a time when steering appears to be the second or third priority. I wonder about his mindset and what is propelling him through the rocks. I never see much of his face because he has to hold his gaze below the coming headlights lest they obscure his vision. Do his parents take a long look before he goes out the door, wondering if their circumstance and lot in life will finally send their child down a one way road? Or do they even know he’s left for school? Mainly, I wonder what he is chasing: the fame of sports, the will to learn, the chance to have better and be better than what he has now and who he is now.
Here’s the thing: I can’t figure out if I’m chasing a middle class mirage, or if I’m stuck in a middle age malaise. There’s never quite enough money or time to make things feel like they’re supposed to feel. Why does my existence seem to be all about ducking and weaving, and no touchdown dances? I know from what is around me that I should be doing nothing but dancing. My path is relatively clear. Right now I have no rocks underfoot, and no cars blowing past.
But maybe that is part of the problem. We don’t mean to, but as we ease through middle age many of us begin to measure our progress in life against others or against our own expectations. It seems like my life just began, and I’m already in the middle of things. There have been false starts, glorious successes and there have been failures. It is easy to get caught up in the past, and the things that did not happen. It is easier still to get caught up in life’s routine and the things that always happen. What I have to is remember that my path is not set in stone. I might be in the midst of a beautiful journey, but right now I’ve got my head down. The days of life advance and recede like waves in the ocean. It is time to live in the now. It is time to take chances. It is time bring my gaze to the horizon, no matter how bright the glare of what stands before me, and pedal forward through the rocks once again.