My Best Friend's Wedding

Twenty or thirty years ago the social scene was defined by the summer wedding schedule.  Driven by the cultural imperative to be partnered by a particular age, most of my friends were discovering marital bliss and the joys of parenthood before I even knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

This weekend I attended the wedding of a dear friend of mine. The following three things make this summer event exceptional:   1) My friend is fifty-six.  2) This is his second marriage.  3) It’s to the same woman he fell in love with and married the first time around.

Having never been married myself, I find such an idea unfathomable.  Being a hopeless romantic and a firm believer in my friend, however, I find his courage and faith in the woman he loves and the family he is reuniting to be truly inspiring.  I’m not one to cry at weddings but when I listened to the minister list a lifetime of joys and unspeakable sorrows, I couldn’t help but feel the healing had come full circle for this family and wept like a willow.  If we can be patient with the process, love will save the day.

There is something exhilarating about finding love at midlife.  Whether this love is with a partner you’ve known all your life or the one you met by chance at a conference in Orlando after accidentally walking into the men’s room, finding it again removes all memory of age and all semblance of sophistication.  (Especially in the latter case.)

To me, love at midlife illustrates the classic case of hope triumphing over experience.  By this stage of the game, if you haven’t had your heart broken a time or two, I would venture to say you haven’t really loved.  Loving anything or anyone is a heartbreak waiting to happen. But who would willingly forgo the inexplicable thrill of love just to avoid the inevitable pain? 

At midlife I’d like to think our chances of enjoying healthy and satisfying relationships are higher because we know who we are, what we want, and what we are or are not willing to negotiate.  We’re not as likely to lose ourselves in another person because we have become a highly complex person in our own right with a purpose, passion, priorities, and quite possibly a penchant for plaid.

When we fall in love in our younger years we tend to believe we are falling for another person who holds the key to all that completes us.  But as we mature, daring to fall in love offers the opportunity to fall in love with ourselves again.   When was the last time our wickedly witty or secretly sassy self got to come out and play?  And would the leopard teddy and four inch heels really be chosen over the ratty t-shirt and Elmo slippers under normal circumstances?

For a brief period of time the running list of what is wrong with us, what needs improving, and what is never going to happen in this lifetime gets thrown to the wind as we consider the possibility that by joining forces with Prince or Princess Charming, we have just received a get out of jail free card. We might actually be able to let go of the list of grievances against ourselves until the aforementioned royalty catches on. 

Of course, if our beloved really is the Prince or Princess we know them to be, they’ll never catch on – or if they do, at least they won’t report their findings at the company picnic.  They’ll remain that version of Shallow Hal that sees only the beautiful, the true, and the good.  They’ll never treat us as terribly as we treat ourselves on a typical day of self-loathing. 

These are just a few reasons why love is a many splendored thing. (Yes. Go ahead a click on the link to hear this unforgettably sappy song from the 50s.  Did our parents really listen to this and subliminally subject us to knowing the lyrics for life?)

None of us can do it alone.  We all get by with a little help from our friends.  Last weekend, I was delighted to help my friend renew his vows and my faith in this thing crazy little thing called love. (Click on this to hear one of my favorite versions of this snappy – not sappy – love song.  You wouldn’t expect to read all these words of love without a little love mix running in the background, would you?) 

Changes & Choices

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine. “ – Robert C. Gallagher

If change is a constant, why isn’t it easier?

Midlife is rife with one change after another.  Whether children are moving out, parents are moving in, neighbors are moving too close, or friends are moving too far away, this revolving door of relationship changes can bring about all kinds of emotional upheaval. 
Add to that the physical and psychological changes.  For example, when did my body become an exact replica of my mother’s?  And when did my brain start behaving like eccentric Aunt Lola’s?
Then there’s the general disorientation that accompanies a visit to box stores, grocery stores, or  malls.  Questions like, “How long was I in there?”, “Did I leave without the one thing I went in for?” and  “Where did I park my car?” can easily cause a person to age ten years. 
If I could effectively use the technology available to me, I might be able to tweet my way out of my predicament by finding a friend who could help me use the GPS on my smart phone to get the coordinates to the only twelve year old car in the lot with a “Life is Good” tire cover.  (It’s important for me to stay optimistic in bold ways.)
Just when I start to feel like it’s all too much, I consider the possibility of what would happen if nothing changed.   What if children never grew up, politicians never left office, snow never melted, ideas never evolved into action, or a bad haircut and color never grew out?
I shudder to think.
Some days, however, I’m just not that into change.  I don’t want to adapt, adjust, or allow for the infinite number of consequences that result from upgrading a phone or switching billfolds. When familiar things take an unfamiliar twist the learning curve can be brutal until I can muster up the “this will ultimately be worth it” attitude that gets me through the initial exasperation.
Some days I feel every year I’ve been on this planet and find myself dangerously close to declaring, “I’m too old for this!” 
With the exception of Garanimals, I’d really like to think I’m not too old for most things.  I might be a middle-aged dog, but I am certainly capable of learning new tricks.  Ironically, frustration and fatigue set in when I’m not learning, changing, and growing.
Of course, change merely for the sake of change is just another weapon of mass distraction.  Enter the quest for meaning.  Meaningful change, change with a purpose, intent to grow, learn, evolve…I’m into that kind of change.
Most of my life I’ve had a voracious appetite for learning. Ever since I got to consider where I might go, what I might do, or how I might spend my free time, I’ve chosen some kind of learning adventure that promised to shed light on the meaning of life.  This quest for meaning has been the driving force behind most of my decisions.
In the grand scheme of things this quest compels me to continually take risks, travel far from home, engage in life changing conversations, and invest in new relationships.  In the daily course of events it compels me to get out of my pajamas and attempt the ten-minute fat burning Kettleworx  workout before heading to the office, write at least three decent paragraphs before going to bed, listen to amazing audio programs while driving in my car, and dispense the most helpful advice I can to students who trust me to have the answers. 
Many times I have to fall back on the wisdom of Dory from Finding Nemo.  Just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming.  What do we do?  We swim, swim!” Not just because I absolutely love to swim, but because we’re all swimming in this sea of change and if we’re lucky, improving our strokes and breathing patterns as we go.  Fortunately, we can learn from  wise sea turtles and others who are further along or at different points on the journey and willing to share their experiences, or at the very least, their sense of humor.
The thing about change is that it catapults us out of the place of perceived comfort and opens us to the possibility of learning more not just about ourselves but the world in general. 
It’s fascinating to be living in times of rampant and radical change.  Like getting what you wish for, living in changing times can be a blessing or a curse.  Today, I’m choosing the blessing.
What about you? 

Let Freedom Ring

For many Americans, having a 3-day weekend is cause to celebrate.  Throw in some fireworks, food and beverages, friends and family, and a little patriotism and you have the incomparable 4th of July holiday.   In honor of Independence Day, I declared last week Independence Week and took some time off work to savor all that freedom and independence mean to me.

My freedom fantasy goes something like this.  I have the whole summer off and a beach house where I spend each day writing the next New York Times best seller.  Of course, I’d have a bicycle with a basket for loading fresh fruit and veggies sold at a local market where  I congregate with other creative types also spending their summer casually cranking out their best work.  We agree to meet each evening for captivating dinner conversations, music, and dancing as a reward for making it through a day in the company of characters we’ve only imagined.  Naturally my dogs would be with me to encourage regular stretch breaks, beach walks, and daily swims. And, since this is a fantasy, maybe someone might also show up around lunchtime to do something exquisite with the fruit and veggies.

My reality is I work four 10-hour days at a community college and have Fridays off during June and July.  If I take a strategically placed vacation I can maximize my days off and write full-time during that time period.  I live in the Midwest (nowhere near a beach) but have access to a swimming pool and a cabin, although they are not at the same location.  I can get farm fresh eggs from my friend Karen’s happy hens and fresh fruit at the farmers market and check out  the Food Network for something fabulous to do with these ingredients. 

Even though one is not so far removed from the other, either my reality or my fantasy needs tweaking.

There’s this thing that happens at midlife when we accept that this is our life.  Whether or not this is who we thought we’d be, where we imagined we’d live, what we hoped we’d be doing for a living, and who we thought we’d be doing it with, here we are now.  And though we’ve been involved in every decision that brought us this point, we may still, on occasion, ask ourselves just what happened.

The more constructive question might be, “What do I want to do about it, if anything?”

Sometimes I think I have to do something so big, so bold, so grand that I completely psych myself out and do nothing. For example, in the above fantasy, spending a whole summer at a beach house and writing a best seller are two humungous goals.  While possible, they require planning, financing, connections, talent, and ultimately luck.

Most course corrections start with one simple adjustment followed by another.  Like guiding a person to an object by telling them they are getting hotter or colder, we find out what works for us by trying out one small and slightly less scary step at a time. 

During my ten days away, I spent half the time at the cabin surrounded by trees and hawks and hummingbirds with my dogs at my feet and various people joining me in the evenings.  The other days were spent overcoming my technophobia by upgrading my phone and securing a wireless modem and laptop so I can take my writing on the road.  

Even though these felt like baby steps to me they were actually huge leaps moving me forward.  Now I am free to move about the cabin (literally) and stay connected.  No more excuses for me not to post to this blog on a regular basis.

Having the time and space to breathe deeply and pay attention to all the little ways the universe rushes in to wow anyone who’s paying attention, is what I feel freedom is all about.

Now, on with the fireworks… or fireflies.  This week I discovered they also can light up the night sky.