I recently marked a birthday. My 63rd, to be exact. When I was very small, there was always a cake and candles, with a toy or two. When I got a bit older, birthdays lost their luster, because our family couldn’t afford much fanfare. As my mother became increasingly incapacitated, there weren’t even cakes anymore. Then I moved to the resort island where I lived through my 20s, and birthdays were an excuse for friends to gather for occasionally intimate, other times, raucous, celebrations. After I moved to Cleveland, I was alone for a number of years, and as my parents were gone by then, birthdays passed anonymously. Then I met and married my husband, and after having “my” day pass as a non-event so many times, I told him I wanted to make at least a little bit of a deal out of it, even if we just had dinner at one of the nicer local establishments.
I’ve found that counting isn’t as important as celebrating. Besides, as I’m still 27 mentally, it’s become rather pointless to enumerate the chronological passage of years. Does everyone of a certain age say the same thing? I suspect so. I’m often surprised to look around our house, survey the rooms of furniture, all the animals, then study the yard outside, packed with trees and flowers, and realize that, hey! I’m responsible for all this! I’m a grown-up and have inescapable duties. I’ve been married more than 26 years, and have a husband and companion who shares my life. How did all of that happen? It can’t have been that long ago that I was working catering gigs up to 70 hours a week, crashing at my apartment for a few hours a night, hanging out with bands in my spare time. When I reflect, I marvel at the changes my life has undergone. Its trajectory has been one of meandering, doubling back, staggering forward, with no particular goals. I worked with someone once who’d set goals for achievements at 21, 25, and 30, and had hit all of them. I couldn’t relate to that kind of structure. When a hiring manager would ask where I wanted to be in five years, I never had any specific answer, so I settled for, “still learning.” Needless to say, that response didn’t land me any jobs.
So here I am, having not held a job for almost two years, due mainly to the invisible age barrier and the pandemic. Working for an employer was never my raison d’être, and it was never a joy, but being employed did provide an anchor. Certainly, I enjoy my freedom immensely, and would not want to go back to schlepping into an office five days a week, but still… I miss the challenges of problem solving and miss being needed (having one of the cats yowl at me for food isn’t exactly the same as having to produce a presentation with 20 minutes’ notice). When we spoke a month or so after I lost my job, a former colleague referred to my landing another position as, “rejoining the living.” While I think that’s just a bit over-the-top, I realize it’s a pretty common mindset: not working means not contributing, and that’s a no-no. Again, I don’t visualize myself ever going “all in” again, but a having a toe in the water wouldn’t be bad. The sweet spot would be to have a limited number of clients who would call on my admin and writing skills remotely, but I haven’t managed to accumulate that critical mass yet.
Getting outside my personal circumstances, though, I find myself weighed down by the state of the world. When it comes to this country’s leadership, The Who had it right: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss…” We got rid of a narcissistic man-baby, but replaced him with an old pol who’s pandering to the corporate donors more every day. So…the moneyed elite doesn’t necessarily want the pending jobs/infrastructure/voting legislation? Enter Joe Manchin, the perfect foil and perfect excuse. With such a reprehensible weasel in place (apologies to weasels), Uncle Joe can have it both ways. To we-the-people, he can say, “Look, I really tried to get this stuff passed, but a couple of senators stood in my way.” To his donors, he can say, “Relax, boys, these initiatives will never come up for votes.” Rinse, repeat. Hell, yeah, the game is rigged.
And so it goes all over the world. The would-be demagogue in Israel may or may not peaceably vacate his position, but if he is successfully ousted, it will be by a coalition that includes elements that are even farther to the right than he is. The arms deals will continue apace, nevertheless.
Then I read about environmental damage. Ongoing. Everywhere. It seems there isn’t a square inch of inhabitable earth that some developer doesn’t want to wreck. Or uninhabitable earth, for that matter. Indigenous tribes and other conservationists have been fighting the same battles for decades or longer, sometimes winning temporary victories, until the next round of exploitive greedmongers comes along and manages to threaten the rivers, mountains, oceans, and sacred lands again.
All this to say that the energy- and optimism-sapping situations, the lack of ability to effect change, build up. I sit back and look at the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of my life, and I feel paralysis. Overwhelming inertia. I haven’t reached a stage of resignation yet; I’m in a kind of existential limbo. I can’t just shrug and toss off, “Whatever.” I could just fold into myself and disregard all that external baggage, take pleasure in the minutiae of individual existence and let the rest fall away. Give up following larger events. It would certainly make life easier. I wonder if such a sense of general unease and angst is a function of having reached the age I am, or of having had to leave the work world abruptly, before I’d planned to, or whether it’s entirely due to the precarious state of affairs in the outer world? Or all of the above? Am I having a belated midlife crisis? I don’t think so, because I have no desire to run out and get hair extensions or fill the closet with tube tops and minis… Is this merely a transition phase before I enter some golden age of peace of mind, in which I can regard the world with equanimity? Perhaps after I have a few more birthdays under my belt, I’ll know the answers.