Somewhere along the path of sociological history we have conceptualized the idea of middle age. I used to think it was old; as if middle age were the end of something that I would never want to end… youth, fun, opportunities. However, I have come to understand middle age as something delightful. An opportunity to re-calculate. A chance to be more intentional. A time to have middle age be our teacher.
Richard Dawkins, the brilliant scientist, coined the word Middle World to refer to a realm in scientific studies which helps the human mind to imagine the extreme realms of existence. Mark Haw described this Middle World in his book subtitled The restless heart of matter and life. I am not a scientist on that level, and have never read his book. However, I wonder if the idea of middle age could offer us an opportunity to look at the extreme realms of living this life.
When we are young our dreams and expectations are expansive and sometimes naive. If we are privileged enough to live in relative stability and comfort, we can imagine the many possibilities that life might bring us. There are so many paths to take and our youth seems to be the ideal embodiment of the human experience. What could be better than these years of our youth?
We have no choice but to grow older. Unless, of course, that option is taken away from us. If we are lucky, we eventually will find ourselves in Middle age. The middle of our age. We are no longer in our childhood or even young adult years. And we are not in the final years in which we can taste the end of life. We are in the middle years. Middle life. And I am suggesting that rather than this being a time of sad regret, that we invite Middle Age to be our teacher.
For it is in these years, whenever they begin for any of us, that we have a depth of wisdom we have not had before. If we pay attention, we know ourselves deeply. We know what kind of life feels the most satisfying for us in a way that the hunger of youth doesn’t know. We pass now on some of the items on the buffet. We have tasted them and we know they don’t agree with us.
Middle age gives us the opportunity to let go of some dreams and expectations we may have had. Maybe we have grown beyond the desire or maybe those dreams were limited by age and circumstances and that time has past. We can have enough perspective at this age to know that what was important a few years ago, is not important any more. This wisdom and insight is the secret of Middle Age. All we have is this moment in time and so we are invited to pay attention. And we can know that in a few years things, will change again. We don’t need to know exactly how things will turn out. There is freedom in this ambiguity.
Using this time, this Middle Age, these years in-between, to honor who we are, who we have been and continue to wonder what will be next, can be exciting and comforting. We are less pressured by the peer groups of our youth or family expectations. We can shed old stories that were possibly put on us from other people or limitations that others had for us. Middle age continues to be a time of dreaming and planning, but now with our own internal “wisdom guide” to help us move forward.
Middle age begins at different times for different people. It is not a number. It is the time we live in-between. In-between then and now and before what ever is next. It may last for many years. Maybe it lasts until our very last days here on earth. Middle age, the time in-between, may usher us into the next realm.
What I believe is true, is that if we are willing to embrace these middle age years, we can learn from our youth, and use Middle Age to be our teacher and our guide. What is true now that we didn’t know or let ourselves believe before, in the confinement of youth? Middle Age can be a time of deep wisdom and celebration. Middle Age may be “the restless heart of matter and life.”