Here’s one of my favorites from the Big Sky Astrology archives. It was originally published in 2005. We’re still in the same old house, my nephew is grown and married and practicing law, and my sister and I are entering our 7th decades and still as goofy and giggly as ever when we get together!
I pick up the phone to hear my sister’s voice in mid-reminiscence: “Hey, you know what I remembered today?”
“Remember when we used to go to pick mom up from work, and we’d be sitting in the car waiting…and finally she’d come out, and as she was walking towards us, one of us would say, ‘That’s my mom!’ And the other one would say, ‘Hey – that’s my mom too!’ And then we’d look at each other and go -”
Here I pick up the thread of the storyline, and together we utter a single, dramatic gasp, pretending to be soap opera characters who have suddenly realized they are long-lost sisters. “Duh duh DUH!” we cry, mimicking soap opera “moment of truth” music, and giggle helplessly.
It was fun sharing this mini-flashback to our youth, because in a couple of months I’ll turn 44, and in January my sister will turn 46. In other words, we’re really and truly middle-aged. For instance, the reason she called this morning was to give me a report of my nephew’s SAT scores. He’ll be a high school senior in the fall – about the age his mother and I were back in our “Hey, that’s my mom too!” days. My nephew is marvelous, and I just about burst with pride every time I look at him – but like most rattled oldsters who are continually stunned by the most predictable of life’s transitions, I’m startled as well. Surely he’s not that old, that tall, driving a car, graduating from high school!
Oh, what is it about summer that makes us look back with such aching nostalgia, to take stock of the years passing us by, register such alarm at the 6’3″ nephew, remember silly word games we once played – sometimes still play – with a sibling? In the past few days, the sun has turned fierce after weeks of “June gloom,” San Diego’s characteristic, pre-summer cloudiness. Now, when I leave my office in the afternoon, an ice cream truck is parked in front of the playground across the street. The vendor starts up his engine, the cheesy music begins to play, and I’m immediately seven years old. It’s all I can do to keep from chasing after him for a sidewalk sundae. These are sweet memories; why does it make me a little sad to remember them?
If the beginning of winter is the time of determination, of buying new calendars and drafting bold resolutions for a year of success and prosperity, then the summer solstice marks the year’s reevaluation point. Even if we’ve been underachievers in the first half of the year, there may still be time to reach our goals. But we can’t speed our way through this transition. Just as the sun at the summer solstice appears to stand still in its movement across the horizon, then turn around and move the other way, that is our job at midyear: to stand still for a moment, look around, and take stock of where we are. It’s usually too late in the year to start from scratch in an entirely new direction and hope to achieve anything by year’s end. But if we take the time to look back over our shoulders and reevaluate our progress, we can then slowly revisit our goals over the next six months, reviewing our plans and filling in the missing gaps.
Midlife, I’m finding, serves a similar purpose. Here I am at the summer solstice of my life, standing still and looking back at where I started out. It’s not too late to do great things with my life, but certain options are forever closed to me. It’s definitely too late for me to be a child prodigy or an Olympic athlete, for instance, and probably too late to be a tenured professor or to bear children.
But is it too late to do whatever it was I wanted to do with my life, back when I was a kid? And what was that, exactly? I was always burning to do something, but not always the same thing. I loved to read, and sing, and write, and play alone. I dreamed of being famous, but never of being rich. I dreamed of being married, but never of having children. I wanted to travel the world, I think, but I was afraid of it too.
I’m fortunate that my dreams and passions were built to a fairly small scale. I’m not famous, but then, I lost interest in that dream long ago. Everything else worked out pretty much the way I’d hoped. I’m pretty happy with my life choices. But you get to the middle part of your life, and as you begin looking back over it all you begin to want to jettison parts of your past, as if to make your life more fuel-efficient so that it will carry you farther. You look for new places and situations that you can step into without all that excess cargo of stuff and failed dreams and loss and sad relationships.
Case in point: We’ve lived in our house for nearly eight years now. It’s the longest I’ve lived in any house since 1971, when we left the Indiana farmhouse that my grandfather built. And the truth is, while I love our house, I’m tired of its problems. Some days I would happily move to a new house and take on even worse problems than the ones our house possesses, simply because they would be new problems. It’s my version of a mid-life crisis, I think; I’m completely satisfied with my spouse and don’t need a fancy car, but I can and do crave a different house, a whole new Cancerian shell for incubating the person I’ll be in the next half of my life.
But inertia is a powerful force. So instead, I rented a small office not far from my home, a tiny, womblike space no larger than 100 square feet, in a building that’s part of an old church. I relished having a new space dedicated to my writing, one I didn’t have to share with a guest bed or cats or boxes of old bank statements. In feathering my new nest, I didn’t have to take into consideration the colors in adjoining rooms, or ancestral portraits, or pieces of furniture that would be expensive to replace. I could do exactly what I wanted with it; nothing from my past needed to be incorporated into my little garret. It was delicious.
What I ended up with is a room unlike any I’ve ever had, or would ever be likely to have, in my home – the colors are pale and cool, the furnishings sparse. No internet connection, no email; there is nothing to do there but write. Some days I spend as much as an hour just sitting there by the window, enjoying the quiet, letting the breeze blow the sheer, white curtains against my arm, daydreaming. I can imagine that I’m someone else, rewrite my history, and take a sort of intermission from my life.
Gradually, though, a few rogue possessions from my “real” life – a book here, a CD there – have migrated to my new nest. More and more, my mind picks at the flaws in the room, my paint job, my choice of wall hangings, as my fingers might nervously pick at a loose string on a sweater. It’s easier to write there, but my ideas aren’t necessarily any better. In short, nothing’s changed but my location.
We are what we are, it seems. Even those of us who make big, seemingly permanent changes in midlife, such as leaving marriages or careers, eventually seem to find our way back to the same old patterns we established in the first part of life. How many divorcées have you seen whose second marriages became, in a very short time, a carbon copy of their first? Or restless career changers who find their new profession presents the same political and personality problems of their former one? Or for that matter, sisters who grow older but still giggle together in their same old secret language?
No, we don’t change, not usually, not much. Like crabs skittering down the beach under a pale summer moon, we move in erratic ways, not along linear paths, zigging and zagging, revisiting old missteps. In nostalgia, we long to reclaim and embrace our abandoned childhood shells.Maybe, we think, that’s when we had it exactly right about who we were and what we wanted. Maybe, maybe not. What we can reclaim, at midyear or midlife, is the excitement and promise we felt in the beginning – not yet lost to us, but only waiting for us to slow down, and turn around, and let it catch up.
Writing and images © 2005-2021 by April Elliott Kent