Aging Gracefully (Or Not): The blur

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): The blur

Natalie Gelman

There is no doubt that the midlife transition is disconcerting. It is a time for evaluation, refocusing, looking backward and forward at the same time, and creating or enhancing values. It certainly can lead to a heightened awareness of how we choose to live our lives, but this new awareness evolves out of uncomfortable realizations.

The theme of loss continues as time feels lost. The years pre-midlife feel like a blur. A sense of regret and confusion surfaces over the inability to remember and attribute meaning to the past. It feels like life has gone from youth to middle age with very little awareness of the in between.

I am surprised at this point that I am really, really entering middle age. It came so quickly. It came so very quickly that the last thing I remember is being in my 20s. I have a faint recollection of being 30, and then as I rounded the corner into 40, there was a part of me that said, "I do feel middle aged now, and I didn’t know that was going to happen."

It becomes a blur. That’s why I cluster 22-40. It’s like it went and where was I?

Life before the blur is recalled vividly — friendships, school, social and political events, and feelings. The diffuse period is connected to the time that marriage, children, and career development took place. There is a sense of being out of touch with the world and with oneself. Awareness that time seems to be passing more quickly provokes questions about choices made in the past, and this tends to trigger a reawakening of youth. The feeling is one of regret and anger. Looking at the time as a blur prompts wondering if different choices might have led to feeling more fulfilled.

There are a lot of things I want to do before I am gone. And I feel like I haven’t done them. Dreams that I hoped one day would come true. And sometimes I get very upset because I don’t seem to see any of them coming true.

Like what in the hell is going on? Why do I feel like I don’t know what I want to do, and I have to do something and I don’t know what I’ve done and I look upon my life as nothing ... It was more like an emptiness. Something was missing and I didn’t quite know what it was. You know I could look back and say I have accomplished this, this, and this, but inside I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. It was all in my mind, but if I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything, I couldn’t deny that. And it just doesn’t go away.

The following poem by Judith Viorst, found in her book How Did I Get to Be Forty and Other Atrocities, depicts this feeling:

FACING THE FACTS

I’m facing the fact that
I’ll never write Dante’s Inferno
Or paint a Picasso
Or transplant a kidney or build
An empire, nor will I ever
Run Israel or Harvard,
Appear on the cover of Time,
Star on Broadway, be killed
By a firing squad for some noble ideal,
Find the answer
To racial injustice of whether God’s dead
Or the source
Of human unhappiness,
After the theories of Drs.
S. Freud, C.G. Jung, or A. Einstein,
Or maybe the course
Of history,
In addition to which
I am facing the fact that
I’ll never compose Bach cantatas,
Design Saint Laurents,
Advise presidents, head U.S. Steel
Resolve the Mideast,
Be the hostess of some major talk show,
Or cure the cold,
And although future years may reveal
Some hidden potential,
Some truly magnificent act that
I’ve yet to perform,
Or some glorious song to be sung
For which I’ll win prizes and praise,
I must still face the fact that
They’ll never be able to say,
“And she did it so young.”

As we move forward in the aging process, we begin to accept the stage we are in and make some decisions for the future.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at drnataliegelman@gmail.com. Her website is http://drnataliegelman.com.