It was 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 a hike that was easy, even for a 3-year-old. Sure, there were a few hills, but nothing major. Anyway, the payoff was huge — a gorgeous waterfall cascading into a shimmering 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 had neglected to factor my own physical stamina into the equation. I was out of breath before we reached the top of the first hill. 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 glaringly 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 never have 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.
It would seem that somewhere between the burgeoning hope of early adulthood and the sweet, relaxing rewards of the golden years, there is an awful lot of, “Well, that didn’t turn out the way I imagined.”
The other day I flipped through my calendar and realized I haven’t met up with a friend for a decent conversation (outside of Facebook) in months. How did that happen?
2. Physical Health
It’s getting more and more difficult to actively play with my kids. My knees are shot. So is my back. These days, I push myself just a touch too far, and as I struggle to catch my breath, I wistfully remember the stamina and strength I possessed just a few short years ago. Is it just me?
I’m tired. I’m tired all the time. Sleep doesn’t really help — it just takes the edge off. It isn’t even that kind of tired. It’s more like…weariness. Weary from the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, the three birthday parties I still have to buy presents for, and the fact that the dog just barfed all over my newly steam-cleaned carpet. Yeah. I’m weary.
4. Romance and Passion
I still go on dates with my husband, and the two of us have settled into a pretty comfortable place. However, when a “Facebook Memory” pops up with a photo of the two of us splashing around in the ocean, I am reminded that my relationship used to have real, sparks-shooting-all-over-the-place passion. We used to be so much more fun!
By now, most of us have been at a job long enough to have collected a few big wins, but it seems like an eternity before we’ll even be eligible to meet with the retirement counselor. In the meantime, we 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. We’d love to quit, but binge-watching Netflix doesn’t pay the mortgage or your kid’s college tuition.
Speaking of which, finances are…hmm, 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 I may or may not have just found out my 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 merely tolerate the mucky middle in hopes that relief is ahead? Or can we find the joy, excitement, peace, and contentment even when the life swirling around us is mundane, chaotic, isolated, and even a little sad?
I think we 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 also glimpsing the other in the not too distant future. If we let it, 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 the trust is, it was worth it.
We made it to the waterfall, and as I carefully sat down on a fallen log near the water’s edge and massaged my aching calves, 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 downhill is supposed to be easier, right?
Either way, there is always Advil.