Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The MID Of My Life

From Wikipedia:  Midlife crisis is a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and used to describe a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by some individuals in the "middle years" of life, as a result of sensing the passing of youth and the imminence of old age.
Jungian theory holds that midlife is key to individuation, a process of self-actualization and self-awareness that contains many potential paradoxes. Although Carl Jung did not describe midlife crisis per se, the midlife integration of thinking, sensation, feeling, and intuition that he describes could, it seems, lead to confusion about one's life to date and one's goals.

I think I might be having a midlife crisis.

It started a couple of years ago when I was visiting Mom. She always tries to give me stuff, old books and greeting cards that she'd saved and miscellaneous things that she doesn't want us kids to have to wade through when she passes away. Mostly she gives me photos, which I love. But it suddenly occurred to me: Mom is giving them to me because she's 88 years old and these photos are important; she wants someone to have them and appreciate them. But what happens when I die? I don't have any kids. My brother and my sister are both more than 20 years older than me and are not likely to be around after I'm gone. They each have one child, my niece and my nephew, who are (more or less) my age and have families of their own.

The thing is, a lot of the old photos are from Virginia, where my parents both grew up, and where I grew up. But the rest of my family grew up in Georgia, and that's where they all are now. So there are a lot of photos of neighbors, friends and even relatives that basically no one in my family really knows, other than my mom and me. After me, there is literally no one who will know who these people are, or care about the pictures.

These photos are so important. People's weddings and birthdays and graduations, Christmases and family dinners and county fairs. I have a photo of my cousin Bonnie, who died of breast cancer decades ago, eating my Dad's special Silver Queen corn on the cob at my parent's dining room table. And a photo of my aunt Mamie Sue, who passed away a few years ago, propping her swollen feet up at a Christmas party back in the late 70's. A snapshot of my mom holding our neighbor's newborn son (who is in the military now), she has a weird smile on her face because she's trying to look nice for the picture in spite of the baby's diaper leaking on her.

I started questioning my decision not to have children. After all, at 43 I am younger than my mother was when she got pregant with me. I haven't had any hints of peri-menopause and could, theoretically, get pregnant. But I really don't want to have a child, and it occurred to me that having a kid for purposes of passing on family photos would be a fairly bad reason.

Up until I started thinking about all this, I was enjoying making scrapbooks. I had made a couple and was working on a new one. But then I started questioning why? I make the scrapbook, look at it, show it to my husband and maybe my mom and a friend or two, then it goes on a shelf. Then I die and who cares about my scrapbook? It wouldn't mean anything to anybody else, in spite of all the loving care and time I put into it.

Then I just started feeling old in general. It suddenly hit me that all of those things that I had vaguely imagined I would do someday, like spending a month driving across the country, or running in a marathon, or going to New Zealand, or learning to speak French, or writing a novel, or seeing the Louvre, or losing enough weight to look good in a bikini, or skydiving, or hiking the Grand Canyon, would probably never happen. When I was in my 20's there was this big giant future ahead of me, and I imagined it filled with all manner of possiblities. But now I'm 43, and how many more years do I have? My mother is almost 90 and has always wanted to go to Hawaii, but she never got to, and now it's too late -- she is physically unable to travel that far. I hate it so much, it breaks my heart. I wish I could go back in time and buy plane tickets for her and my father to go on vacation to Hawaii, even if I had to sell a kidney to do it. But now it's too late.

So maybe I have another decade or two, if I'm lucky. But there is no way all of those things I imagined doing will ever be possible in my remaining "good years". Letting go of the idea of limitless possibilities and time for accomplishments feels like death to me.

I suppose what I need to do is prioritize. Forty-three is still young enough to have some time left to do some stuff. Imagining being at the end of my life, what would I most regret not doing?

Who knows, maybe at the end of my crisis I will be a self-actualized person. A self-actualized old person.