I pick up the phone to hear my sister’s voice in mid-reminiscence: “Hey, you know what I remembered today?”
“Remember when we used to go to pick mom up from work, and we’d be sitting in the car waiting…and finally she’d come out, and as she was walking towards us, one of us would say, ‘That’s my mom!’ And the other one would say, ‘Hey – that’s my mom too!’ And then we’d look at each other and go -“
Here I pick up the thread of the storyline, and together we utter a single, dramatic gasp, pretending to be soap opera characters who have suddenly realized they are long-lost sisters. “Duh duh DUH!” we cry, mimicking soap opera “moment of truth” music, and giggle helplessly.
With my sister I’m always a kid, even though we’re in our mid-50s, pushing the outer edges of middle age. For instance, she called this morning to give me an update about my nephew’s upcoming wedding. My nephew is marvelous, and I just about burst with pride every time I look at him – but like most rattled oldsters who are continually stunned by the most predictable of life’s transitions, I’m startled as well. Surely he’s not that old, that tall, driving a car, passing the bar, getting married!
Oh, what is it about summer that makes us look back with such aching nostalgia, to take stock of the years passing us by, register such alarm at the 6’3″ nephew, remember silly word games we once played – sometimes still play – with a sibling? In the past few days, the sun has turned fierce after weeks of “June gloom,” San Diego’s characteristic, pre-summer cloudiness. Some afternoons I hear the cheerful, music-box tune of an ice cream truck as it meanders down our street, and suddenly I’m seven years old. It’s all I can do to keep from chasing after him for a sidewalk sundae. These are sweet memories; why does it make me a little sad to remember them?
When the Sun enters Capricorn, we buy new calendars and draft bold resolutions for a year of success and prosperity. By the time the Sun is in Cancer and the Full Moon is in Capricorn, it’s time for reevaluation. Even if we’ve been underachievers in the first half of the year, there may still be time to reach our goals. But we can’t speed our way through this transition. Just as the sun appears to stand still at the solstice, that is our job at midyear: to stand still for a moment, look around, and take stock of where we are. It’s usually too late in the year to start from scratch in an entirely new direction and hope to achieve anything by year’s end. But if we take the time to look back over our shoulders and reevaluate our progress, we can then slowly revisit our goals over the next six months, reviewing our plans and filling in the missing gaps.
The later part of life’s second Saturn cycle, I’m finding, serves a similar purpose. Here I am at the summer solstice of my life, standing still and looking back at where I started out. It’s not too late to do great things with my life, but certain options are forever closed to me by the constraints of time and biology.
But is it too late to do whatever it was I wanted to do with my life, back when I was a kid? And what was that, exactly? I was always burning to do something, but not always the same thing. I loved to read, and sing, and write, and play alone. I dreamed of being famous, but never of being rich. I dreamed of being married, but never of having children. I wanted to travel the world, I think, but I was afraid of it too.
I’ve done most everything I set out to do, and I’m pretty happy with my life choices. But in the middle part of your life you begin to want to jettison parts of your past, as if to make your life more fuel-efficient so that it will carry you farther. You look for new places and situations that you can step into without all that excess cargo of stuff and failed dreams and loss.
For instance, we’ve lived in our house longer, by far, than I’ve lived anywhere else. And while I love our house, I grow tired of its problems – though I imagine what I’ve really grown tired of are my own problems, stubborn habits, failures, inertia. It’s tempting to imagine that going to a new place, you can incubate a new self.
Years ago, desperate to get a break from the house while preparing to write my first book, I rented a small office near my home. It was a tiny, womblike space no larger than 100 square feet, in a building that was part of an old church. I could do exactly what I wanted with it; nothing from my past needed to be incorporated into my little garret. It was delicious.
What I ended up with was a room unlike any I would be likely to create in my home – the colors pale and cool, the furnishings sparse. With no internet connection, there was nothing to do there but write. Some days I spent as much as an hour just sitting there by the window, enjoying the quiet, letting the breeze blow the sheer, white curtains against my arm, daydreaming. I could imagine that I was someone else, rewrite my history, and take a sort of intermission from my life.
Gradually, though, a few rogue possessions from my “real” life – a book here, a CD there – migrated to my new nest. More and more, my mind picked at the flaws in the room, my paint job, my choice of wall hangings. It was easier to write there, but my ideas weren’t necessarily any better. In short, nothing had changed but my location.
We are what we are, it seems. Even those of us who make big, seemingly permanent changes in midlife, eventually seem to find our way back to the same old patterns we established early on. How many divorcées have you seen whose second marriages became, in a very short time, a carbon copy of their first? Or restless career changers who find their new profession presents the same political and personality problems of their former one? Or for that matter, sisters who grow older but still giggle together in their same old secret language?
No, we don’t change, not usually, not much. Like crabs skittering down the beach under a pale summer moon, we move in erratic ways, not along linear paths, zigging and zagging, revisiting old missteps. In nostalgia, we long to reclaim and embrace our abandoned childhood shells.Maybe, we think, that’s when we had it exactly right about who we were and what we wanted. Maybe, maybe not. What we can reclaim, at midyear or midlife, is the excitement and promise we felt in the beginning – not yet lost to us, but only waiting for us to slow down, and turn around, and let it catch up.