For years, the very idea of a mid-life crisis was laughable to me.
I think the reason that I so easily dismissed it was that I never saw myself ditching my marriage and family for another woman, going out and buying a Corvette, or other equally crazy, off-the-wall things in order to get back or take charge of my life in some way. These are the typical Hollywood crises we see in film and small screen … gross caricatures of the real thing.
So, what is the real crisis?
I cannot answer that one for you. I can only share mine.
For me, it has been the fear of seeing my career coming to an end and wondering what is next. The idea that there are fewer days ahead of me than behind me. It was the concept that my salary was the worth of my life and that debt had made an indentured servant of me … chains I willfully forged with the desire to have things and the appearances of success sold my flesh for a cheaper and still cheaper price.
For me, it was the realization that I am not who I always made myself out to be. The assessment of my adult life being overshadowed by the child who is not sure what he will be when he grows up … and now he is steadily running out of time to break out of the cocoon of fear and emerge to be anything useful.
For me, it is running out of time with the people who really matter … the ones who set you on your course, molded your character from a ripe young age, and cheered every accomplishment.
As the cheering section thins out like the fans forced to watch a home team’s hopeless losing effort, the player from the field screams to the stands, “Wait! The game is not over yet!”
I was 48 years old.
I felt immune and safe that the crisis could not hit me.
I was wrong.
My crisis was revealed in a much more subtle, deliberate way in the final years of my Dad’s life. The third of four sons, I was the only one in town to help my mother take care of him.
He fought the good fight against multiple myeloma for a number of years. Throughout this process, I fulfilled the roles of driver, homemade physical therapist, counselor, and personal hygiene assistant. It humbled my Dad to have to rely on me so. It humbled me to the point where I felt like I was losing my mind and identity in the process.
That was my true mid-life crisis. At what point does love become truly selfless and cast limits to the wind? Is there a point where it crumbles under the weight of the crisis?
I begged him to stay strong and fight. I asked him not to go out as his father had … a man who had been wrecked by stroke after stroke until only a shell remained. A shell that I could not visit due to my own selfish pain.
Dad suffered his first stroke on the Thursday of Spring Break in 2014. It took away the use of his right arm and almost completely took away the use of his right leg. I lived with my parents that summer as we sought to encourage Dad to not only fight, but to overcome.
In October 2015, on a trip to see his doctors in Little Rock, he fell while trying to get back into the car. There was a popping sound when that happened … There was a similar sound the next morning when he got up to go to the hospital. He was in a lot of pain but he soldiered on. It wasn’t until later that day that we realized he had broken his back.
That is the man that he was … John Wayne tough … bite the bullet and do what had to be done.
January of 2015 rolled around and, due to a build up of blood thinners in his system, he sat in his rehab facility for a number of hours until we realized that his speech was wrong … He could no longer place coherent direct objects with his subjects and verbs … he had been suffering a major brain bleed.
He hardly ever spoke intelligible sentences again after that point. Just phrases here and there. My life was forever changed.
No more wisdom. No more correction or encouragement. All gone.
… or at least that is what I thought.
Five days before he slipped into eternity, he grabbed my arm and pulled me close late in the evening. His words were very slow and deliberate as he looked me dead in the eye with a suddenly lucid mind.
I … Love … Your … Tender … Heart.
Protect … Your …. Heart.
As … Long … As … Your … Heart … Is … Tender, I Know … You will be … All right.
He nodded his head at me to make sure I got it. I laid my head on his arm and sobbed as I told him, “I understood you perfectly, Daddy.”
Then he smiled.
That was it.
No more words from the greatest man I had ever known.
That was my mid-life crisis.
Living up to the needs of the man who had done so well by me … The one who gave me so much grace that I did not deserve … including the grace to let the prodigal son come home and serve his Dad to the utmost of his ability.
All those other things … Career ending … Concerns about student loans and other debt … Wondering if I will ever grow up … None of those measure up to or can hold a candle to a boy losing his Dad.
If you are following this blog and you wonder why I write such self-centered emotional stuff, I do it to honor my Dad’s final wish … To never harden my heart .. And in that, I hope he is honored.
As a teacher, I have learned that all crises are equally bad and have potential for harm. It is the way that we handle them that shapes our character, soul, and destiny.
I teach my students to take pen to paper and write when they are hurt, down, or in despair … For me, that is my most creative place.
No one wants to write when they are happy … there is no time for it.
Oh, but when you are struggling to find your way through the dark nights of the soul, there is no friend like an empty page that begs you to fill it up.
Mid-life opportunities … That’s more like it!