I never gave a thought to a midlife crisis being an actual thing until I found myself firmly in the throes of what certainly fits the bill and feeling rather like a ship lost at sea…
Rudderless, with no sail or motor to drive me forward from the tempest, occasionally finding myself skirting the edges of the eye but never really making my way into it for a little peace or far enough from the center to finally escape the winds and waves that continuously rock and threaten to take me under completely.
At times I’ve wondered how so much could come to one person at a single time. Medical crises… Loss of a livelihood because I was too busy trying not to die to be able to work… The ending of a marriage and death of all the hopes, dreams, and broken promises that came with it. Each of those things individually feel like failure on my part. I didn’t choose to have autoimmune diseases and for there to be such a struggle to find a way to control catastrophic blood clotting that killed part of one leg and left damage all over the inside of my body. I didn’t have a choice when the pharmaceutical drugs failed to do what was expected, when the chemotherapy used for the same reason failed, or when the complete plasma exchange through plasmapheresis did nothing to stop the clotting. It does not matter that the failures were in no way the result of anything I could control; they were failures. I didn’t choose to be so sick I could not work or to be so ill that I couldn’t function without oxygen and home healthcare. But I still felt like a failure throughout it all. And I certainly didn’t choose the horrors I experienced in my marriage; he chose to do and be the man he was in our marriage and nothing I could have said or done would have changed that. He was always that man, yet I felt like a failure for failing to see it sooner and for staying in hell for so long, and I felt like a failure for not having been “enough” to make him a better man than he is. After all that, being left with the prospect of having to start over completely in every facet of life is daunting and intimidating if for no other reason than there are so many prospective points of failure in this endeavor.
But as always seems to happen in my world, I have found myself peppered with the wisdom and encouragement I so desperately need but never from the places I think I will find it.
I was recently sent a copy Paolo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, and was told that reading it would change my life because it was exactly what I needed and it would speak deeply to my situation. So trusting the person who sent it to me and trusting that there must be a reason that this person would think of this book for me in such a time as this in my life, I devoured this modern masterpiece and found myself reading and rereading passages, annotating within the margins as truths contained therein blew on the embers of my soul, lighting the fire once more.
The Alchemist is a philosophical allegory that tells the story of Santiago, a humble shepherd boy. Thinking at first he knew exactly what he had wanted from life, he built a business for himself and wanted nothing more than to continue to care well for his sheep, to have a good book to read, to marry the beautiful daughter of a merchant he knew, and to dream of the pyramids, never imagining that his destiny might lie elsewhere, with someone who his soul would recognize from the moment of their meeting, and doing a great many things he never expected in a place far away, across the Mediterranean and the Sahara, while also lying right where he already was.
Early on, Santiago had a dream, the meaning of which was revealed to him by a gypsy woman who asks for 1/10th of the treasure she says the dream foretells he will find. Shortly after, he met an old man who told him that he must discover once again what his Personal Legend is – that thing he always wanted to accomplish in his life.
How many of us had dreams that we have forgotten or chosen not to chase?
The old man told Santiago that when one chooses to go after that dream, that the universe conspires to help one achieve it:
“God has prepared a path for everyone to follow.
“You just have to read the omens he left for you.”
Suddenly feeling brave and feeling the excitement of an impending adventure, the boy decided to chase the treasure the gypsy told him he would find and to achieve his dream of seeing the pyramids and so he began to look for the omens that would lead him on his journey.
A coincidental meeting.
A storm in life that stops him in his tracks.
A word of wisdom from somewhere unexpected.
A failed attempt at something.
In this book as in life, we find that the hero (or heroine) is never the hero at the beginning of the story and in every step along the way he (or she) has the choice to move forward toward a dream through uncertainty, attending to those omens, or not to move forward at all, opting instead to stay still or run back to the past.
How many of us have avoided moving forward in our lives for fear of discomfort or failure?
Most of the people Santiago met along the way were those who gave up their dreams, their passions, and their desires in favor of stability, the known, and in order to avoid a possible failure. They, like too many of us, lived their lives content to leave their dreams someplace in the clouds, not willingly pursuing them here on earth. They waited for a big break that never came. They either missed or ignored the tiny promptings in their lives, the omens showing them the path to their Personal Legend. They chose to sit still in the toxic cocktail of their life and let the future be exactly what the present was rather than following the path to something… different. It isn’t that the path to that Personal Legend is free of troubles for the shepherd any more than it is for any of us, but each step on that path teaches and grows the individual.
What is the point of living if part of that life is not devoted to always being on an upward trajectory of personal growth and improvement?
As I devoured that book, feeling the message deeply that I must listen to the still small voice guiding me forward into a new life, I found myself looking back at my life over the last several years and seeing in retrospect the instances that could have been those omens, those promptings that led me to where I am now, to how I have grown as a woman, as a human being. But the omens are not only in our past when we see how what we chose at some point before now brought us to where we are in this present moment.
I like to think that I have learned to listen to the coincidences, the omens, the intuition that says, “this is important… pay attention!”
After a long conversation yesterday wherein I was encouraged to begin writing again and to speak my truth unapologetically, I read something that struck the sore nerve I’ve had with that ever present fear of failing after having come so far to survive. None but my closest confidants know how deeply I have struggled with the prospect of writing during this time of transition and none but my closest confidants know of the ever present fear I have of waking an angry beast by speaking truth about my experiences… But here was someone outside that circle with no ulterior motives and nothing to gain by being a “yes man” to my passion by telling me firmly that my truth is nothing to apologize for and I should continue to bring my words to the world. Following up that conversation was the simple invitation to share one another’s work, as writers and thinkers do, and very quickly I found myself staring at a phrase so powerful, I wish I had been the one to write it:
“Forging achievement in the crucible of failure”
I’ve been in the crucible of the refiner’s fire for quite some time and have discovered many weaknesses and imperfections, not the least of which is my fear.
What if I’m not strong enough?
Not beautiful enough?
Not brave enough?
What if I’m not enough for this task?
What if I fail?
What if I’ve got it all wrong?
I feel the future drawing closer and like Santiago I have a promise of dreams I do not want to let go of; they are always present in my waking and sleeping. I could give them up, give into my insecurities, and choose to stay where life is known and the prospect for failure is decreased. But why would I want to?
Why would I choose to ignore the message of hope and encouragement the omens bring?
Perhaps I cannot control the wind and the waves, and perhaps I cannot calm the storm, but I can trust that the storms are here for a reason and that at some point I will be able to look back on the journey I’ve been on to see where I grew and where the dross was finally removed because I sought out my Personal Legend and because I had the faith to follow the omens.
Thanks to Mr. H for the excellent reading material, and thank you to D for the stimulating conversations.