This year I’m starting to understand what it is to be middle aged. I think I became middle aged in 2011, but this year maybe I know what that is.
When I was young I viewed middle age through the lens of a young person. I would think: to be middle aged is all the things I’m not right now. To never be young again. To have many fewer Firsts ahead of me. And yes, I envy the idle freedom of my youth. To wander aimlessly.
But now, here, I am learning what middle age is, not just what it is not.
Death. I am losing friends, family. I am losing people who to me were permanent. Not rationally permanent, but still permanent. But this death is only the tip of the iceberg. To grow old… here, I can now catch glimpses of what it means. Either this death is just the tip of the iceberg, or I will be the tip of someone else’s iceberg. Both are possible.
Death and responsibility. I’m now the father of two. Many young people are the father of as many or more children than I. They are all middle aged, but many are too young to know it. I’m am more than old enough to know it, these are responsibilities that can never be shed. Having children has only revealed to me my real responsibilities… to family, to friends, to my community, even my responsibility to the missing communities, the missing friendships, the missed relations.
Death and responsibility and humility. I will never meet my responsibilities; I and everyone I know will die; after that nothing can be fixed. This is the foundation of my humility. It’s not my fault. To be humble is not to be ashamed or guilty. It’s to know I am only so tall, so strong, so brave: no matter how much I may accomplish all I do is finite and any quality I have is so much smaller than the world.
But I’m alive. If I’m halfway through, I’m still but half of what I’ll be. I am all of what I know. There is still a great mystery waiting me.
And children… the responsibility is only as heavy as their import. In them I am part of a legacy that goes back before humanity, a legacy that defines meaning itself. Of course it is heavy. It isn’t easy, this responsibility is not intended to make me happy, in it I learn that happiness is itself small.
And so I am humble. I bow before a world that owes me nothing. And of all that I ask of the world, little will be delivered. That little will be my everything. Here I stand before half of my everything and it is more than I’ll ever know and ever could know. I was never so young that I could know it, even my ignorance is too vast for me to know. I don’t even know where I stand, but maybe I know I am standing. This is my middle age.
In loving memory of my grandmother, Jeanetta Bicking, 1925-2014