Middle-age musings at Community Matters Cafe
by Michelle Icard
Community Matters Café is a beautiful new spot near uptown (with parking!) that trains and employs graduates of the Crisis Assistance Ministry addiction-recovery program and serves up healthy, delicious comfort food. Here, I had a conversation that shifted my entire focus for the year.
I gathered around a table with a group of women I’d never met for a VisionSpark retreat. Since 2011, I haven’t missed this event hosted by Rosie Molinary, an author, educator and activist for personal and communitywide change.
This year was no different, in that there I was again. On the other hand, this year was entirely different, because I thought about the year ahead in a way I never had before. This year, I thought a lot about dying.
Before I alarm my friends and family who may be reading this, I’m in fine health. I am 47 years old. My family is happy and well. My career is robust. I try not to take much for granted, which leaves me generally content and satisfied.
But last year, two friends lost their husbands to cancer. My peers are losing their parents to time with sad regularity. Three years ago, I developed a rare and debilitating vestibular disorder and spent the better part of two years miserably dizzy before finding some relief. And of course, in the time since I wrote and submitted this piece, I’m coming back to add that the irony of expressing this while I’m quarantined during a global pandemic is not lost on me.
The point is, I’m starting to see the cracks in the plaster.
So are the women I spoke with at the café. One had recovered from a mid-cancer divorce and wanted to find happiness again. One wanted to shed her pervasive fear of all that might go wrong and take more risks. One wanted to welcome more fun and balance into her Busy-with-a-capital-B days.
We all want the same thing: more life.
For most of us, the first half of our lives are spent burning energy on the things we should do: make money, get fit, give back, raise kids, keep the peace, keep up. But it’s reasonable to think I’m now past middle age, and the second half of my life is opening up before me in an unexpected way. Now, my priority is making sure I have a great relationship with life while I still can.
This year, the younger of my two children will leave for college, as his older sister did two years ago. Unlike many moms I’ve spoken with, I have little dread of this change. I’ve always expected to find this time liberating, in the sense that it would free up my schedule to focus more on work, my husband and myself. I look forward to being an empty nester as though I am anticipating a nice promotion.
What has surprised me is the broader sense of life I now crave. Work, yes. But also: more yeses all around! Yes to trying new things and going to new places and meeting new people. Yes to collecting more joy, and no to the “shoulds” that keep me from it. I’m greedy for life now.
My epiphany was unique only in that it was mine. This mortality lightbulb has been turning on for people since well before our only lightbulb was the rising sun each morning. Buddhist monks have perfected it through their practice corpse meditation, an intense focus on and acceptance of death. This, they say, is the key to happiness.
I believe it. Once we get past this current setback, 2020 is the year I remind myself to take life out for a big, fun spin as often as I can. SP
Michelle Icard is the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years. Learn more about her work at MichelleintheMiddle.com.