They say middle age is a time for reflection, when we stop to look back and see what we accomplished. “They” is usually even older people who made peace with the process of aging and with their accomplishments or lack thereof.
We all started out with the noble intentions of changing the world, especially those of my generation who grew up heavily politicized from an early age, whether it was the Vietnam War on these shores, terrorism on the European end and the fall-out from the Cold War on both sides. Somehow along the way, most of us settled for making our personal world a better one, sometimes betraying our early ideals. And some of us are finding it hard to live with unmet expectations and throw our lives down the toilet a bit prematurely.
It’s hard to live up to the idea of who we wanted to become. On a larger scale, some of the plagues I grew up with are still very much in existence or even gotten worse – Communism might have been relegated in the attic but the Middle East is in worse shape than ever, human rights are being trampled right left and center and Africa is still piss poor. And we are all to blame for not taking earlier steps to avoid environmental catastrophe.
I don’t worry so much about what kind of world our children will have to deal with – very selfishly, I am apt to think that if we shouldered the problems we inherited so will they and, I am ashamed to admit, I can’t agonize over the planet coming to an end in 500 years. What I can do, now that the time of self-absorption is behind me, is trying to contribute a bit more to the welfare of the planet and of the human beings who inhabit it – if I ever had a middle age realization, that was it.
Some of the pie in the sky goals I had set for myself never materialized and, frankly, I am relieved. I am one of those fortunate people who look back and is satisfied at what she sees – some of my experiences I just couldn’t even imagine right out of college. What I am finding harder is how to keep on making a difference from hereon, on a personal and more cosmic level. Time, all of a sudden, is tangibly finite and fraught with dangers one doesn’t worry about when one thinks the show has no ending. Or, at least, no ending in sight.
There seem to be more forks in the road now than I ever had to choose from in the past and the choices become more definite as the chances of turning back proportionally diminish. Somehow, this feeling also carries an excitement I never lingered on when I was younger. And, if time is shrinking, I make my days longer by not idling under the covers until noon, not even on a Sunday, as I used to. My ideals might have been revised by reality and experience but I am still holding on to the naiveté that makes me rush forward, towards lofty and maybe unattainable goals that require jumping with the eyes closed.
With International Women’s Day just passed, I am glad I can find reasons to celebrate being a female over 40 – life is not over or as stale as I imagined it in my 20s and 30s and, on the plus side, I can even afford better clothes.