I woke up the other day and realized that I’m having a mid-life crisis. I hadn’t recognized that before, because I’d always assumed that a mid-life crisis had to do with fear of death. Someone I know, for example, had a mid-life crisis when he realized that his grandfather and great grandfather had been exactly twice his age when they died. In his own mind, he was now on the path to the grave.
But sitting here today, I’m no more afraid of death than I ever was. I don’t want it to happen, but I’m not currently measuring my life as being at the mid-point between cradle and grave.
While I may not be afraid of bodily death, thought, I recognize that I have hit the age where my dreams have died. A lot of things I had always assumed would be part of my life aren’t going to be.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had this realization. When I was 11, I watched Olga Korbut, and realized that I would never be an Olympic gymnast. When I was 15, I watched Dorothy Hamill and realized that Olympic skating wasn’t going to happen in my life either. (This reality check came more easily considering that I’d never skated.)
Children have all sorts of ideas about what they might do, if only they’d just work hard at it. When they recognize that they’re unwilling to put in that work, they easily abandon those dreams, and go on to dream something new. Eventually, though, the pie-in-the-sky dreams fade out, and they start settling on dreams that seem more realistic. I know that’s what I did.
Almost without exception, the dreams I formulated when I was more mature have not come to pass. This does not mean, however, that I’ve had an unhappy life. Many things I’d never imagined happened to me, and gave me great happiness, probably far in excess of the happiness I would have had if my dreams had come true. I’ve lived my life from day-to-day, making decisions based on the needs, challenges and hopes of the moment, and it’s been, for the most part, a very good life.
I’m therefore not unhappy. But somewhere, deep inside of me, all those dreams, the ones I’d formulated in my late teens and early 20s, never died. In the core of me, I never gave up the hope that I might do this, achieve that, or acquire something special. Now, though, I’ve realized once and for all that those dreams were just as silly and ineffectual as my childish desire to become an Olympic athlete. They’re not going to happen.
What’s different between me and my childish self is the resilience. Back then, I mourned a half hour and then got on to a new life fantasy. Now, however, I can’t do that. I have a family, responsibilities, a decades’ old career, and I’m getting older, not better. Unlike my childish self, I’m not getting stronger and prettier; I’m getting weaker and more wrinkly. I no longer have a sponge-like ability to acquire information; I have a bad memory that’s getting worse. The trajectory is downwards, not upwards.
Don’t mistake my reality-check for a rumination about death and aging. This is just a recognition that it’s hard to formulate new dreams when your machinery is not only breaking down, it’s also chained down by all the very reasonable demands of those dependent on you.
So, the dreams are dead and dying, and I’m slowly working my way through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. I seem to be stuck at Stage 4 (hence my erratic blogging pace), but am entirely confident that I will soon reach Stage 5, come up with a game plan for the rest of my long, healthy life, and start blogging with greater regularity and fervor. And that’s all she wrote.