Is it a “thing” that middleaged women tend to look at their lives, their lifestyles, and wonder what their purpose is, where they’re going? Because I’ve had some serious thoughts along these lines in the last couple of months. I’ll share them, but they require a preface, beginning with this shocking news:
I did not nap today.
Which means it’s possible I’m recovering! I developed chronic sinusitis (basically a never-ending sinus infection) last fall. My bronchial chords decided to get in on the action and became asthmatic. A couple weeks ago, I had sinus surgery and am starting to feel like a live human rather than someone suffering from the zombie virus who would soon be taking chunks out of her family’s brains out of sheer desperation.While sick, I mimicked a real person at times: working, running errands, hanging with the kids and Paul. More often, I mimicked a pillow: lumpy, inert, and bed-ridden. During those times, I had some important middleaged musings:
Realization #1: I am allergic to vacuuming. Don’t laugh. It’s like this: I ran a mild fever most days in January and early February. On the days when I didn’t have a fever, I tried to get some housework done. And EVERY SINGLE TIME I vaccuumed, I became feverish. Vacuuming caused my temperature to rise by about 2 degrees every time. This is a true story. I should now be exempt from ever using the vacuum again. This realization alone may be worth the price of my illness.
Realization #2: Chronically ill people who live through their struggles with grace are an inspiration. In comparison to what so many people go through, my little sinus infection is really minor in the scheme of things. Take, for example, a close friend who has been struggling with cancer for a decade or more:
For the first time in several years, she’s coming on our annual girls’ ski/snowboard vacation, a tradition some of my closest friends and I have engaged in for the last 12 years. She warned us in an email that she was high-maintenance. “My left leg is losing functionality. I cannot lift it very much (I cannot lift it to step into the mini-van or put my pants on. I cannot lift it up to put it on the footstool under my desk, etc.) So, I do not have the strength to move it,” she wrote. I figured, okay, so no skiing for her; we’ll just have to play more games and spend more time talking and laughing. Then I read her next sentence: “I can’t get up when I fall in the powder. SO, if we did any powder skiing, I would need a sweeper. I know where I need my skis to be, I can tell you; I know where I want you to be to help pull me up and can tell you that as well. I just need a little pull to get me going.”
Are you freaking kidding me? I would be under that desk and behind that footstool crying and feeling sorry for myself if that were me, but my beautiful friend is not only planning to ski with one leg that doesn’t work: she’s looking forward to tree-skiing and powder-skiing. She is living a life more full of fun and adventure than I do! And of course, she’s human, and I’m sure she has days of feeling sorry for herself and whining. But still… Wow.
Which leads me to realizations #3 and 4, which are really what I was getting to all along…
Realization #3: I rarely take full advantage of the full potential of my life. When I was feeling crappy and couldn’t do the things I love, I realized how seldom I take advantage of being healthy and having the ability to live a full life. Sometimes it takes energy to live fully and passionately. Sometimes family and work don’t leave room for much else. But I need to make a point of doing the things that excite me. And that doesn’t mean once a week or month. It means living fully every damn day. It means asking, each day, what can I do to enjoy life fully? Do I take the little things, like my love for my family and friends, for granted? Do I add maybe small but enjoyable elements to my life on a daily basis? When I have to do things I don’t enjoy (vacuuming?), are there ways to live fully even while doing them? And how can I bring more exciting experiences into my world more often, so that I live a big life full of fun, growth, love, laughter and fun? (I meant to say fun twice, so back off.)
Realization #4: I have an obligation – to myself, to my family and friends, to God (I’m going to get a little spiritual/religious/woo-woo here; skip ahead if it makes you uncomfortable) to live life fully! I began to think it’s what I’m here for, what we’re all here for. By not living fully, I’m denying not only myself from enjoying the world, but am also denying my loved ones an important part of myself, the part that really lives.
All those days when I slumped around the house just waiting for it to be bedtime (usually about 6:30 pm), I began to pray for guidance on how I should be using that downtime. And it came to me pretty clearly that I needed to figure out how I could stop wasting time. I prayed: what are my gifts that I most enjoy using, and how do I share them with myself and with the world? (Damn! WHY is it that when I write about this kind of stuff, I have to battle the image of my four older brothers laughing at me? Go away, guys.)
I’ve never really thought about my “gifts.” In fact, I never considered that I was gifted in any way. And I don’t mean that I am a particularly gifted person, but I do believe God (insert whatever word here you prefer) gave me some things to share with the world. They’re not spectacular, but they’re what I’ve got. So I meditated about what those gifts are, and two words came to my mind quite clearly, each night, as I fell asleep: writing and singing.*
I don’t really consider myself a singer. I can carry a tune, but I don’t have a huge voice. I’m not Broadway bound, and when I say it’s a “gift,” I mean it more in the sense of wanting to share my joy with others – so maybe my gift is my love of singing rather than the singing itself. Because I do love it. It brings me happiness and fulfillment, and one way I experience that on a regular basis is taking singing lessons every week. But if I’m not going to be a professional and sing in public, how can I share it? Simply, I realized: My family attends a Greek Orthodox Church and I joined the church choir several months ago. We sing all the way through the service, many hymns as well as sung responses. The congregation sings along with much of it, and the choir enhances it. It’s just lovely. The Orthodox Church believes in the power of music, and it is “used to its full effect to bring about spiritual renewal in the listeners.” (Last sentence from Wikipedia because I didn’t know how to explain it.)
So in my small way, my voice in the choir is helping to do just that: bring about spiritual renewal in the congregation and in myself. In my small, I am “sharing my gift.” An imperfect gift, it may be, but I am going to make sure that from now on, I enjoy my role in the choir to the utmost.**
As for writing: Forgive me if I sound arrogant, but I believe I have a small gift of putting feelings into words, feelings that many people feel but don’t always know how to articulate.
Lately, I have loved using this “gift” with this blog, as a way to reach other women who can relate to the joys and challenges of this great big life of ours. Again, in my small way, I love to speak to others about these topics in a way that helps them know they are not alone, in a way that makes them laugh, and in a way that just might, if I’m lucky, inspire them at times.
I’d like to reach more women, start a larger conversation with others. It sounds self-important and maybe it is, but it came to me strongly when I was sick that it’s what I’m meant to be doing, what God (higher power, the universe, the cosmic good, insert your favorite word here) wants me to do right now. There was actually a sense of urgency, like God was saying, “Jen. Get up. Write. Sing. Now.”
So, that’s where I am right now, and it’s quite the journey. If you’re experiencing a similar one, if you’re seeking your place in the world, join me. Share your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear from you.
*Singing and writing obviously aren’t my only goals in life. Being a good mother, wife, and friend is the most important thing to me.
**And guess what??? Sinus surgery has opened up several new resonance chambers in my head! My voice is “bigger and fuller,” according to my singing teacher! Singing is easier – I can place my voice more easily and high notes are a delight! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but this is an amazing development. And hey, maybe it’s why I got so sick in the first place. God, the universe… Etc., etc.