I recently celebrated my fifty-fifth trip around the sun. Things ache sometimes – my neck, back, and hips, especially when I get up in the morning – and my heart, for what I've lost and for what lies ahead. I’m forever taking my glasses off and putting them on again to accommodate the annoying vision changes that come with age, along with too much time in front of computer screens. And I notice I’m not as adept at multi-tasking as I once was. But, truthfully, I don’t resonate much with the idea of midlife as a crisis.
In fact, physiological “adjustments” notwithstanding, this metaphorical midpoint in life feels more like quiescence than crisis. I wouldn’t trade the hard-won awareness of today for a do-over or a trip backward. I believe I am the best version of myself I’ve ever been, even with the extra wrinkles and padding I’ve accumulated over the last few years.
With the sometimes painful process of learning how to soothe the fearful voice within, from within, has come a measure of calm certainty about my own deepest knowing. This awareness allows me to hold healthier boundaries and create deeper authenticity in my relationships. With my own mind and heart setting the course, I feel reasonably safe in the world.
As if testing my new level of awareness, the universe sent me a pop quiz a few weeks ago: I fainted at work and hit my head when my desk broke my fall. A blow to the head is both a literal and metaphorical wake-up call for me. The last time it happened, a car accident left me with both a serious concussion and an awareness that my well-being depended on my waking up and removing myself from an emotionally abusive relationship. What was I overlooking this time, I wondered?
At Urgent Care, the attending physician explained the results of my EKG and other diagnostics: my heart looked relatively stable, he said, and all my vitals were “within normal range.” Still, he sent me home with a long list of symptoms to be aware of, and a request to check blood pressure and heart rate often. I should go directly to ER if I noticed any of the symptoms or if my heart rate or blood pressure increased precipitously. If I was alone, I should call 911.
I live alone, so for the next several nights I slept with my phone. I asked a neighborhood friend to sleep with hers nearby, too. And before going to bed that first night, I posted medicine instructions for my cats and put a load of delicates in the washing machine. In case I croaked in the night I didn’t want my son or my friends to be stuck with dirty underwear or sick cats. These are the kinds of thoughts one has when reading and re-reading a long list of scary symptoms. And when one lives alone. And when one worries about heartbreak as an inherited trait.
The doctor focused his examination on my heart, and that was a big anxiety trigger for me: my father died of a broken heart, the gradual result of carrying the burden of long-held family secrets, of disappointment, of lack of service to himself as he devoted himself to the service of others; and, finally, of extreme loneliness after the death of my mother, the love of his life.
My father spoke to his God through prayer first thing every morning and last thing every night, and he counseled me to do the same. Did his God whisper anything back to him when he prayed? Dad didn’t believe in expressing your feelings in order to heal—he thought that was self-indulgent. Instead, he said, turn your troubles over to God, who alone can provide comfort. He prayed with deep gratitude for all he was given, but he did not believe he deserved any of it.
When the doctor told us that Dad’s heart was failing quickly and there was nothing more to be done, Dad said a prayer of gratitude for what he described as “a beautiful life” as I cried. And it was a beautiful life. But I wonder how his story might have ended differently if he had forgiven himself more, loved himself more, and allowed more of his feelings to flow freely in directions other than heavenward.
Since my workplace fainting and head-bump, I've been listening intently to the voices from beyond, including my dad's, who sometimes whispers in my ear in the twilight hours, asking me to take care of myself, to slow down, to learn from the lessons of his over-giving before my own gets the best of me. And I listen to the whisper of my own inner knowing around when to stop. To rest. To stretch. To dance. To speak kindness to myself. And to wrap my own arms around my heart.