As weird as Dad is, he's pretty straight-forward, with very few hang ups and not one neurosis that I can identify. So when the subject of middle age came up years ago I was surprised to learn that Dad felt he had experienced a midlife crisis. Never mind that at its apex he bought himself a modest sports car (used) and that when the crisis was over the car was traded in (perhaps only six months later; long enough for brother Bocci to spin the car out on Highway 299 to the redwoods and for friend Kit to hit a raccoon, but those are stories for other days).
But that's not what I called you here to tell you about. What I really want to talk about is the concept of the midlife crisis, because I am totally having one.
It didn't happen at 4o. Most people dread 40, or they think of the 40th birthday as a milestone to achieve and quickly get past. "50 is the New 40" say the magazine headers. Somewhere along the way we decided that to have significance a birthday must end in zero.
The really big ones end in 7 or 8.
I turned 48 last week, so I know. I already had the warning from Dad. "47 was a tough year for me," he had said all those years ago. I thought he was crazy. Why 47? I don't know if he had any answer, but I think I might have one now. You're either 47 or 48 when your 30-year high school reunion rolls around. 30 years -- wow. What will you look like when your 30-year reunion rears its ugly head? What sort of walking and eating assistance will you require? I know, the thought is not pretty. I'm here to tell you young people that it is survivable, but also that the psychic toll of getting to age 47 or 48 can be substantial. It has been for me.
Dad may not have known why 47 hit him so hard, but here's a guess: suddenly you realize the trap you have built for yourself. If you've never married and had kids those possibilities seem suddenly unattainable when you are faced with the 30th reunion, and the accompanying photos of other people's kids. If you're married it suddenly dawns on you that you'll never again have a first date, first kiss, first awkward morning together. The likelihood of a new career or exciting adventure becomes more remote with each passing year. And it's these damned zero-ending anniversaries, the class reunions, that bring all of this up for us.
I would have been fine never internalizing this stuff. Why should this bother me now of all times, when I am happily married and at peace, generally? But there have been moments in the last month when I have felt the panic rise, just like the time during my scuba certification when I was being dragged across the sea floor in 20 feet of water, unable to stay in the spot designated by my instructor, and I desperately wanted to bolter for the surface, to get my bearings, to reset. I did not, but it took every ounce of strength in me not to do so. And in the last month it has been just as challenging not to claw toward an imagined surface. I have a person or two to thank for helping me to keep my head on straight. I'm still desperately fighting the instinct. Please, if we cross paths, be understanding and bear with me.
I do not fear 50. I have no clear understanding of death in a personal sense, and no belief in any afterlife to soften the concept. What I fear is that I have attained a place in life at which there can be no surprises. I like the uncertain, I embrace multiple possibilities. And yet capital L Life is just as sure and certain for me at age 48 as death is for those at 98.
I crave uncertainty, imbalance and possibilities. Instead I find myself now facing the certainty of a gentle downhill slope and sports on TV in the evenings.
Talk about psychic damage.