Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Alone in the Middle

My husband's family has had property up on a lake in Northwestern Wisconsin for 70 years. And for the past couple of decades, every year or two, Matt and I have packed up the kids and driven 18 hours to spend a week or two in heaven. The lake is 1800 acres of clean, cold water and I love, more than anything, to be on or in that water.

A few years ago I took up the family challenge of swimming across the lake. It is about a mile across and just doesn't look that far. Now I love swimming and plugging along breast-stroke is about like walking to me, so swimming a mile across the lake really isn't that big of a deal. 

The first time I swam across I apparently broke the family record. I am very active, but not terribly athletic (possessing the energy but not the coordination), and have always hated competitive sports. (The last thing a guilt magnet like myself needs is to be the reason her team lost.)

I truly believe that my record breaking swims across the lake have less to do with my athletic prowess than with my hyperactive and excessively vivid imagination. Left to my own devices, with upwards of 60 feet of water beneath my feet, my mind conjures up an amazing number and assortment of things that could be in the water with me. Giant muskies eye me with hungry eyes and hungrier stomachs and unnamed beasts, part octopus, part squid, part jellyfish, and part blob, reach up with their dangly tentacles to drag me down by my toes, never to be seen again. So I swim. I swim fast as fast as I can.

But I have noticed something in the swimming. When I first start out I seem to make incredible headway. With each stroke the shore disappears behind me at something barely short of a breakneck speed. But the closer I get to the middle, I can watch the shore and watch the shore and watch the shore and plug along til my limbs fall off and I don't seem to get anywhere. At all. 

The first time I noticed this I started counting my strokes. Twenty strokes and then I can open my eyes. Check my place. Twenty more strokes. And twenty more. The only thing that told me that I just had to be moving a little was the fact that I could count my strokes. And eventually, a seemingly long eventually, the shore came close and each stroke made a huge difference and it seemed I was finally back again to breakneck speed, headed for the finish.

I know that it is all about perspective. My efforts only seemed to be doing something when I was close enough to clock my position against a near landscape. Out in the middle, the mile markers, so to speak, were few and far between. Even while swimming it feels, it seems, that I am just treading water. That is what it is like out in the middle.

That is where I am right now. Out in the middle. Mid-life. No wonder there is such a thing as a mid-life crisis. You get to a point and, well, life just seems to be treading water with no headway. No purpose.

My kids are all out of high school, mostly grown, and making their own way through young adulthood. My purpose has changed. My role has changed. Gone are the mile markers of my life: birth and development, school with each year a new grade and advancement, jobs, marriage,  pregnancies and births and my children's own milestones,  and grades in school. Gone are so many of the rhythms of life that were my gauge for most of the past 51 years. I am far away from shore now. I am treading water, so it seems.

In so many ways I feel all washed up. My body seems to hate me now. I look in the mirror and ask "who the hell is that?" Any attempt to improve intellectually would just be calling on brain cells that went AWOL years ago. I get distracted. Flustered. Forgetful. I look up the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's just in case.

This is the time of life where peers begin dying of natural causes. Last fall my high school class of 67 lost our first classmate. A heart attack took her in her sleep. Four months ago my high school boyfriend dropped dead. It just seems that in so many ways, this is the beginning of the end and there is little left ahead.

Yet, both grandmothers lived into their 90s and my own mother was 85 when she died. Given those genes, I have possibly 4 decades...40 years...left. It baffles and confuses me. I could be barely past the halfway point yet there seems no clear way forward. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I just thought things would be so different by now. I thought I would be more confident. More competent. More sure of my future. More secure in my identity. I thought I would be smarter. Wiser. Better able to roll with the punches. I never dreamed I would reach this age and still get lonely on a Friday night.

Maybe everybody goes through this. Maybe this is what causes women to get face lifts and boob jobs and men to go running after young hotties with healthy libidos.

To be honest, I need to know if I am still of value. That my thoughts and words and work matter. I need to know that this stage of life matters. That the life God has brought me through matters. That I am not lost out here in the middle. And I am not alone.