This has absolutely nothing to do with Rick Warren’s book of the same title, which I have read a few times over as per recommendation of my father, but rather with my arrival at my true mid-life point. Well, that is, assuming that my lifespan is 100 years, and quite frankly I don’t even want to live that long if it means being immobile, frail, with no grip on reality, and complete loss of memory. No, I want to be fit and active and still be kicking ass at 85, trying to dangle from a helicopter to capture the elusive photograph of the rice terraces, or sitting in a quaint cafe in the middle of an obscure city observing life around me so I can integrate the scene into my next book.
A recent conversation led me down yet another path of proverbial soul-searching. There comes a time in everyone’s life when crossroads mean more than just a decision between black or white. It is that transformative, and very scary, moment when the choice to move forward includes letting go of just about everything you have been carrying with you for the last four or five decades (or more if you are older than me).
I don’t even think “crossroad” is the right term because that would actually mean four options, one being turning back and returning to where you just came from. No, the point I refer to is that bridge which all mid-lifers aged between 45 and 65 reach and realize that if you want to make a difference in your life, and that of others, the bridge has to be crossed or else everything remains the same and the bitterness will win the battle. This is the scariest moment in my life, because it requires a detachment from that which I hold familiar and safe, the known and predictable, what is called in German “berechenbar”. A leap of faith, so to speak.
There is no precise time for this crossing, nor is there a manual that will guide me and provide specific instructions. It is just me, my SELF and my courage. The rest is inconsequential.
Where am I going with all this? One of the books that got me started on this train of thought is Mid-life Magic: Designing the Next Chapter of Your Life by Lorraine Clemes. In it, Clemes breaks down the process into seven steps, which I have to admit look easier than they are:
- Review (components of well-being & of personal circumstances) – these are actually two separate chapters in the book, hence two steps.
- Dream (looking ahead)
- Create (Potential Options)
- Plan (research and reality check)
- Overcome (challenges)
- Live the dream
How one arrives at the bridge can either be circumstantial or by choice, it doesn’t really matter. What is more important is how each individual deals with the moment, and that is exactly what it is, a moment. Moments per se are fleeting and cannot be extended, so they require action, a conscious decision. Picture yourself standing at the edge of the bridge.
- How did I get there?
- Why am I here?
- What is on the other side?
- What do I need to cross?
- What do I have to leave behind?
The bridge before me is not a solid structure that offers security and safety from the elements. In most cases it is more like a a swinging bridge between two mountains peaks with a deep ravine beneath, or maybe a glass bridge that heightens all your fears. Either way, I cannot take all my baggage along and need to travel light from here on.
What is on the other side?
Nobody knows, and that is part of the whole adventure. It is unpredictable, immeasurable, and incredibly exciting because whatever it is, I know in my soul that it will be different simply because I will be different after crossing that bridge with all the courage I could muster and all the fears that accompanied me half way. Why half way? because at some point I have to chase the fears away, throw them off the bridge and make it across as the strong, independent person that I want to be.
What do I need to cross? Just the basics – SELF, courage, and determination. During the crossing, and once I start exploring the other side, the inner mantra is “don’t give up just because you stumbled along the way.” As the Camino taught me, travel light in order to travel far. It took me years to figure this out and only recently did it make sense to me in a non-materialistic way. It is the emotional baggage and self-loathing that keeps us bogged down, our fear to fail and unwillingness to part with the elements in our lives that offer more pain than joy.
Why? For what purpose?
Well, I asked myself the same thing recently, a variation of a theme that has haunted me ever since my mid-life transformation began, biologically and emotionally. The only acceptable answer I could come up with was: I lived my life the past 50 years in this manner, is that all? Where did that get you? And I realized that although the sacrifices have been numerous and the broken dreams even more, the calculated risks to chase the dream have been almost zilch, and so is the sense of adventure. That is not how I want to spend my remaining years.
I want to be able to apply all my life experience into the next chapter, plan the dream based on these experiences, wants and needs, savor the process of overcoming the challenges (failure can only make me stronger), and live the dream.
Yesterday I spoke with my spiritual mentor and his words struck a deep chord: be true to yourself. So, yes, Snowman, here I am, shedding the baggage, holding on to the ropes for dear life as I cross the bridge in a city and country that are not my safe place, and challenging the wind to try and knock me off.
What the wind hasn’t realized yet: I am the storm.