“You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” ― Albert Camus
It all started with a message from Arthur on Wednesday morning.
“If you need bearing, contact me please.”
Arthur is with Sunspeed Bearing, a factory in China that makes machine bits.
And until I read his email — which somehow eluded my junk mailbox — I don’t think I had realized how much I’ve lost my bearings.
Call it the angst of aging, middle-aged melancholy (if I live to be 106), my own personal blue period.
But I’ve been realizing lately, as going to funerals more and more often means marking the death of friends and not their parents or grandparents, that this phase of life can be a funk-riddled time.
Yes, we’re lucky if we’ve got this far, but now we start thinking about how much time we have left. Decades? Years? Months? Who knows?
It can lead to the doldrums, which made me think of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her five stages of grief (which, having been criticized for being too rigid, are now — 50 years later — seen as being open to interpretation).
Perhaps Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief can also describe five stages of life.
Remember when, as a child, then in your teens and 20s, the world rolled out endlessly in front of your invincible self like a magic carpet? That’s youth and denial — the notion that nothing really debilitating can happen and life stretches out interminably.
But then something big and bad and life-changing does happen. Your friend dies of cancer at age 32, or your cousin is killed in a freak work accident. Your parents split after a long and what you thought was blissful marriage, or your spouse loses his job and can’t find another and your bills are looming. You are mad.
Is that a lump in my breast? Will my son have permanent damage from his accident? Does my daughter have a serious illness? My dad’s cancer is operable, treatable, curable, right? My dog will recover from this stroke. Dear God, give me this one thing, just make this one thing work out and I swear I will do Thy will, so help me… well, You.
See “middle-age melancholy” above.
This is a time of soul searching. Will our children settle down — if that’s what they want — and be happy? Will they someday be able to retire? Will I live to retire? Will I get to enjoy it if I do? Or will the stress of work cause a stroke/heart attack/cancer before I can retire? Will my husband get to enjoy his retirement? Will we have many quality years together? Will the money we’ve saved last a lifetime? Why are some people cruelly deprived of even having these dilemmas? Why do people who love each other have to be parted prematurely by illness, accident, death?
It’s all so unfair and meaningless.
This phase is for people who have managed to accumulate wisdom through stages one to four. With acceptance, surely, must come some sense of stability, serenity, contentment. At least, I hope so.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has reached this stage. I want to know how — doing the math, realizing your lifetime is finite — people in their later years learn to accept where they are and what their life has been.
Do you get beyond regret? Are you afraid of being alone? Do you fear the end? Do you worry about not being ready? And what did it all mean?
Perhaps, in the end, there is no grand scheme. Maybe it’s as simple as the Talk Talk song I bopped around to in 1986, blissfully laissez-faire: “Yesterday’s faded. Nothing can change it. Life’s what you make it.”
Or perhaps life is as author Anaïs Nin described it: “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
May yours be “War and Peace.”
Recent columns by this author
PAM FRAMPTON: Get beyond the blather, get out and vote
PAM FRAMPTON: Imagining John Lennon