God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change….
I have to admit, I used to think a mid life crisis was a rather amusing joke used by comedians to explain why the man next door suddenly turns up driving a brand new sports car, dyes his hair and starts wearing tight jeans and a leather jacket. In fact I gave my husband a very amusing book on the subject a couple of years ago. Yet just like many things, it is only now I myself have reached the big 40 or thereabouts, that I have begun to realise what a mid life crisis really feels like. Not that I’m having one as such, before you get worried that I’m going to start dyeing my hair blonde and turning up on the school run in a tiny skirt and thigh high boots. It’s not actually about that, you see. It’s merely that it has finally occurred to me what the mid life crisis is really about.
It’s the sudden realisation that if you’re very lucky and live a long life, you are pretty much half way through. And that, is a scary thought indeed. In your twenties, it all stretches out ahead of you, there’s plenty of time to do all the things you dream of doing. I’m not being gloomy here, forty is of course the new thirty, not old at all. In fact believe me, I am so much more comfortable with myself now than I was before. It’s not that, it’s just at forty something you suddenly realise that there are still loads of things you want to do and you need to get on and do them, not get bogged down too much, prioritise I guess.
At the same time, to add to the fun of middle age, my body isn’t what it was, it hasn’t been for years and there are grey hairs sprouting on top of my head which like an alien life form, think it is compulsory to wave a cheery greeting to onlookers, having a wiry personality of their own. Of course like any self respecting woman, I try to make them behave, covering them up, smoothing them down, but they are there all the same. This has the result of exaggerating my often feminist outlook, berating the fact that silver fox male newsreaders constantly grace our screens, yet their female counterparts have obviously dyed their hair to an inch of its life, no question they can show that they might actually, shock horror, be ageing.
Is this what being middle aged is all about? Covering ourselves up and pretending to still be as young and fit as we were in our twenties? Panicking that life is passing us by in a crazy merry go round of work, kids and trying to keep twenty plates spinning in the air at once? I don’t know, but what I am sure of is that all this angst and stress doesn’t make us happy. The constant effort of trying to be something we are not, fighting against the inevitable.
At several points in my life I have researched the Buddhist faith, a religion that I find fascinating and appealing in many ways. And recently whilst watching a programme on Thailand, a word was mentioned which I think is entirely relevant to modern life and middle age and that word is acceptance.
When I first started contemplating the concept of acceptance, I was a bit alarmed, does it mean that we should give up, let everything go? This is a worrying thought when I consider my own parents, in their eighties, with plans of what they still want to achieve, always a project on the go and I truly believe this is what keeps them young. Yet lately when talking to them, there is an occasional hint of irretrievable sadness for certain things they will now never get to do. They very rarely mention it, being incredibly positive, upbeat people who live in the moment, but just occasionally I get a glimpse of this. Is that the human tragedy, we are never totally happy with what we have done/achieved or is it just true strong human instinct to always keep fighting, keep pushing to do the next thing? And if we lose this do we tend to just give up?
Confused, I continued to read about the Buddhist ideology of acceptance and after a while began to understand what it means. Of course we should always continue with our goals and aims, at any age, maintain our hopes and dreams. Acceptance is not about giving this up. It is like lying on your back and gazing up at the sky and instead of choosing or trying to influence the shape of the clouds rolling overhead, which would of course be pointless as it is not within your power, you have to work with the shape of what floats along into view. If you try to change the unchangeable then you are going feel frustrated and unfulfilled.
I have tried to practice this acceptance over the last year or so, as painfully for all of our family, a couple of my children have been unable to cope with normal daily activities like school or sports, due to their health conditions. Accepting that they may not be able to achieve these things has been tough for them especially, as kids simply want to get on with it and join in with their peers. Yet accepting, that this is the situation for now, with the hope and perhaps gradual realisation it might not always be so, has been cathartic. Having tried this mindset, instead of desperately attempting to do everything at once and living with constant exhaustion and frustration, my eldest daughter has gradually improved enough in this last year to be able to do all the wonderful activities she wants to and more, just gradually…carefully. She still hasn’t got the stamina of most children yet, but she is finally happy with what she is doing and if she’s happy, I’m happy. In writing too, there is an element of acceptance, going with the flow and letting the thoughts come along, moulding and weaving them into the story like a giant tapestry.
So maybe there are times when acceptance is necessary, on a certain level, just for a while….. without giving up, but perhaps going with the flow a little more…Acceptance definitely seems to be the way forward except…..I’ve just spotted another of those wiry grey hairs on top of my head, where are my tweezers…?