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.

Leap Year

A year ago I was sitting at O’Hare airport waiting to board American Airlines flight #54 to Manchester, England. A riotous storm had just barreled through town so a timely takeoff was unlikely.  In order for the airline to claim an on-time departure, we boarded and left the gate at the designated time but sat on the runway for two hours where we were offered granola bars as a distraction before embarking on the eight hour flight.
My mistake was thinking I could be distracted or even relax enough to catch some sleep during the overnight flight.  If I had made this trip before or was sharing this adventure with a friend, I might have succeeded.  But since I was traveling alone to a foreign country to spend a week with strangers, I felt like I was leaping off a cliff.  
Now I have leapt enough times to know I will grow wings on the way to what looks like certain death.  I have even written a book about it.  (If you are interested in Read It and Leap, email me and I’ll tell you how to get a copy.)
Still, this trip was different. 
This was one of those trips that define a life.  There was my life before the hiking trip with poet David Whyte and my life after.  So in some ways, I was facing the imminent death of life as I knew it.   As I flew east into the light throughout the night, I couldn’t close my eyes for fear I might miss the instructions on how to navigate the afterlife.
For most people a European vacation might have happened much earlier in life and involved a backpack and Eurorail pass instead of a two checked bags and a carry on.  But I’m a firm believer in reinventing your life at any age and traveling light, despite the checked bags.  When the planets align and give you a sign and you happen to have a current passport, you are duty bound to heed the call of the wild.
Instead of attending my high school reunion, I boarded a plane and headed to Melmerby Manor, where twenty members of my new tribe awaited my arrival as if they had been waiting thirty years for our reunion.
Like most true adventures, I really had no idea what was in store for us for the next seven days.  I knew there would be hiking.  I just hadn’t anticipated five hours of intense hiking in breathtaking locales each day.
I knew there would be poetry. I just didn’t know how incredible it would be to hear it from the source in the land of his ancestors.
I thought there might be rain but was delighted to discover it was sunny every day and stayed light until almost 11pm. 
I figured there would be interesting food.  I just hadn’t expected the world’s best organic bakery to provide our midday meals and sack lunches for the hikes.  Or that sustenance could come as much from conversation while making the evening meals as from the meals themselves.
I knew I would make new friends.  I just had no idea how meaningful these bonds would become since opportunities to make new friends aren’t always as prevalent at midlife as they are when we are younger.
One of the great lines in David’s poem Learning to Walk speaks to the fact that at midlife we are “present enough to know true friends when we meet them” and “mature enough to keep them for a lifetime.”
Six of these new friends have agreed to help me write a book about our experience in The Lake District.  On one particular hike we lost our way, therefore dubbing ourselves The Lost Ladies of Cumbria.  Of course, we eventually found our way back to the rest of the group.  In the process we discovered so many parallels between getting lost on the hike and getting lost at midlife, we decided to collect them along with our stories for anyone who might dare to follow in our footsteps.
We all met again this April at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island near Seattle where David hosted a reunion weekend for those who had been on any of his tours over the years.  We spent five days getting reacquainted and plotting and planning what is to become The Lost Ladies of Cumbria book, blog, and guides to just about everything.  In a very short time, these women have become an essential part of my life.
When you take an educated leap, not only do you grow the wings I mentioned earlier, but you also gain a sense of self that may have become dormant in your everyday life. 
For example, who would know I love to travel when my daily commute is five minutes from door to office and an hour to visit friends and family on the weekend? 
Who would suspect I’m really quite funny when my day job is advising students on such serious matters as what to be when they grow up and overseeing the daily operations of a new satellite campus?
Who would guess that walking and writing are as essential to my well-being as eating and sleeping?
Who would know that inside you, just like me, there lies “some wild risk about to break again on the world”* given the slightest opportunity?
If you are reading this, I’m counting on you to leap when that opportunity arises. 
And then you must tell us about it.
This is how the Midlife MacGyver Movement begins!
*From Learning to Walk by David Whyte.

Start Before You're Ready

I recently read a book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work that suggests we start before we’re ready.   Start what, you ask?  Well, anything.  Writing a blog, for example.
I must admit that after a year of playing around with the idea of a blog, researching blogs, reading other people’s blogs, and doing everything but writing my own blog, I’m still not sure I can deliver an exciting, insightful, or adventurous read on a regular basis.
And yet, starting the blog was exactly what I needed to do to catapult myself out of the middle of things that don’t matter so much and land right in the midst of things that do.
Most of us are in the middle of something.  Whether it be the middle of a thought, the middle of a sentence, the middle of a meeting, the middle of the year, the middle of an exercise program, or the middle of a midlife crisis, we really don’t like to be interrupted.  Especially to attend to new projects requiring immense effort or the corralling of creative forces that could quite possibly matter even more than whatever we’re in the middle of.
Before opening my eyes in the morning I consider the possibility of something new. But then I step out of bed and am assaulted by fifteen things that ought to be done before going to the office, all equally pressing.
I convince myself there will be sufficient energy left over at the end of the day to fuel the new project.  Sadly, the results are the same as when I expect snow peas to be left over from yesterday’s chicken with mixed vegetables.  Energy and snow peas are in limited supply.  Fatigue and baby corn, however, are endless.
And yet some things insist on finding their way.  
Like the “overnight success” that follows forty years of perfecting a craft, one fine day our work will arrive fully formed on the scene after being imagined into existence in the odd moments between meetings, transporting people here and there, advising students, consoling friends, getting groceries, sorting laundry, and planning an escape.
Of course that day will arrive when we least expect it but in a moment when we are fully capable of meeting it and ushering it into the world.  The key is not to hesitate. 
There are just too many things to frighten the life out of us.  Not because we haven’t experienced these things but because at this point in our lives, we have.  We’re acutely aware of what we have to lose.
Strangely enough these are not the things that we might have been afraid of losing at an earlier age – money, sex appeal, a partner, our looks, the corner office.  We can survive hits to our ego. The things we fear losing now have to do with our soul’s significance. 
What if the dream we’ve been nurturing for all these years turns out to be a dud, a flop, failure, fiasco? What then? 
When we’re younger we can blame our mistakes on inexperience, cockiness, or immaturity.  We also believe we have time to recover. 
But what happens if we fail at forty-four or fifty-five or sixty-seven? Shouldn’t we know better? How do we recover from mistakes at midlife? 
My thought is that we simply begin again.  Steven Pressfield’s is that we start before we’re ready.  Buddha’s is that life is suffering. Yoda’s is there is no try, just do.
So whatever it might be that you’re hankering to breathe life into, perhaps today is the day to do so.  In my experience sooner is better than later, given the snow pea situation. 
Just don’t wait until you’re ready. 
We both know that for this particular passion, you’re already as ready as you’ll ever be.

Adventure, anyone?

Anyone can be bold and adventurous at 9, 19, even 29. 
Being bold and adventurous at 39, 49, 59, and beyond demands a different battle cry.  I don’t know about you, but at this point in my life I need more than a tweet to get me out of my seat and on the road to revolution.
It’s a daring plan, of course, to simply be yourself, live life on your own terms, follow your dreams, and live an unconventional life.  I know.  It’s been my life’s mission.
That’s how I learned that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The  unspoken societal opposition to our personal declaration of independence goes something like this:  Be yourself as long as it’s not too different, unconventional, creepy, quirky, weird, or utterly inexplicable to potential employers. 
So the natural reaction is to veer away from the edge where you keep a safe enough distance from your dreams that you think they are still within  reach. But unless you venture back out to the edge on a consistent basis, the safety net becomes more like a maximum security prison and you discover you’ve given the keys to any number of jailors.
Of course, you may not realize this until something or someone makes you to feel old or obsolete.  You may not have noticed before because everyone else was doing the same thing and you may have gotten really good at it.  Furthermore, you may have been compensated exceptionally well for it. 
But sooner or later the grumbling starts.  The call of the wild cannot be silenced.  This is when you find yourself cruising the self-help or travel sections of your favorite bookstore, or if it’s out of business, your iPhone, iPad, Nook, or Kindle bookstore. 
There you discover success books and blog posts written by those who are living large in a global community.  Yes, they will help you remember what it is that sparks your curiosity, lights a fire in your belly, and makes you do things others might consider ridiculous.
And while these rising stars will remind you of things you have forgotten and long to reclaim, they may not be able to help you negotiate your current reality, simply because they cannot yet imagine a life that deviates from the dream.
Who would want to imagine a world where one might need to know how to handle a hotflash while wearing a turtleneck, how to manage a midlife meltdown without alienating everyone you know, how to gracefully give up your job to the more affordable intern you trained as your assistant, what to call something besides “thingy” when you can no longer remember the word for everyday items such as spatula or doorknob, or what to do when an aging parent shows up for  lunch without pants? 
No, in order to perpetuate the dream, these things are better left unsaid.
Enter Midlife MacGyver where all you really need to revolutionize your midlife experience is duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.
If you are of a certain age, I don’t even need to explain.  But in case you never had the opportunity or desire to watch the American action-adventure television series, allow me to explain.  Angus MacGyver was a secret agent who could work his way out of any situation.  He preferred peaceful resolutions to skirmishes which meant he didn’t carry a gun.  He was smart, optimistic, easy-going and very resourceful.  He was able to solve complex problems simply by using everyday items he found wherever he happened to be. Duct tape and a Swiss Army knife were perpetually present.
To join the Midlife MacGyver Movement , you are going to need these same skills. You will also need to have your senses about you.  Specifically, a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, a sense of self, a sense of compassion, a sense of community, a sense of humility, and a sense of grace and gratitude. 
Shall we start the revolution then?
Shall we speak of unspeakable adventures?
Shall we reclaim our fierce potential with honor and a healthy dose of humor?
If so, I will meet you at the edge.