In The Middle

The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

A little while ago my 6-year-old daughter went to a friend’s house to watch a movie. When she came home that night and for the couple weeks afterwards, she was so much more solicitous of me. “Mom, do you want a glass of water?” or “I’m sorry you banged your hand.” So I dug deeper into the storyline of the Netflix family movie Over the Moon. Not surprisingly, it’s about a little girl whose mom died from cancer.

I don’t want my kids operating from a space of worry about me. But I was fascinated about the noticeable change of behavior. It suggested how much our awareness is influenced by our focus.

So I was listening carefully when I heard author Susan Cain describe the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. Dr. Carstensen is a professor of psychology at Stanford specializing in the psychology of older people. Here’s Susan Cain’s description of the research:

“[The] elderly tend to be happier and more full of gratitude, more invested in depth relationships, more prone to states of well-being. She has linked all of that with the fact… not as we might think that we get older and have acquired all this wisdom from the years we’ve lived. It has nothing to do with that, it only has to do with the fact that when you are older you have a sense of life’s fragility. You know it’s coming to an end.

“Younger people who for other reasons are in fragile situations [also exhibit this]. She studied students in Hong Kong who were worried about Chinese rule at the end of the 20th century. They have the exact same psychological profile as older people did. Because the constant was the fragility.”

Susan Cain describing the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen

Since at 52-years-old I’m closer to the middle of my life (hopefully) rather than the end, it begs the question of how to cultivate an appreciation for relationships, health and the good times. Especially to enjoy them without the sense of fragility that I understand but don’t quite viscerally get yet.

This made me ponder the nature of the middle and I realize I couldn’t name a middle of something that I really savored – the middle of the day, the middle of a meal, the middle of a relationship, the middle of a project, the middle of my body. (That is, other than being in the middle of my children, as shown in the featured photo.) Especially when it comes to projects (and maybe even days), I’m always in a rush to get to the end so that I can celebrate and then start a new one.

Someone wisely pointed out that we can’t remember things we don’t pay attention to. So I’ve started taking a brief pause in the middle of the day to just notice how things are going. It’s a small practice that I hope will help me appreciate the middle of my life more.

I was thinking about what to say to my daughter about the movie and death when one night she said, “I’d be kinda sad to die but also a little interested. I have to see the way the rest of my life works out and I’d miss you. But it’ll probably be your turn first.” And then all the solicitousness was gone. Which is fine. I want my kids’ memories and mine to be defined by not what we worry about but what we pay attention to.

What about you? Do you rush right past the middle or do you have a way to mark the middle of a journey?

25 thoughts on “In The Middle

  1. Thank you, Wynne, for gracing us (yes, gracing, because your writing is so rich) with this post. Your children are very fortunate to have you as their mother.
    Your post resonated for several reasons, not the least of which was the subject of death. It’s actually the core my latest post–inspired by someone’s suffering related to the death of a spouse.
    The second part that resonated strongly relates to this: “I’m always in a rush to get to the end so that I can celebrate and then start a new one.”
    That was I–over and over again! Striving to get anywhere, somewhere, beyond the beauty of the eternal NOW! The yearning for just “one more” accomplishment yanked my attention to an imaginary future, the one where all the worth was supposedly to be found. Little did I know, that I was standing amidst the treasure–my mind just didn’t know it. 🙏

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  2. Wow! Marking the middle and noticing it! Love this! Reminds me of the lessons of mindfulness, to be aware of the entire process! I strive to live that way, but there’s still many days and times throughout the day where I get totally swept up in what I’m doing and am not observing myself or how I feel until I’m exhausted! 😬😬

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  3. Timely post Wynne. I am well into the limited time focus, even though my family history tells me I could easily be around for another 30+ years. Our women live well into their 90’s but each year the sense of possible finality grows. I’m writing family stories for the kids and grands. I just commented to them the other day about my memories and the process- what stands out and what is lost and I realized it was/is the daily routines that are gone yet the bigger/special moments are vivid. I know there had to be sad/silly/fun/hilarious moments in those routines of our family but for me they are a series of easily forgotten “middles”.

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    1. What an interesting perspective you provide here, Deb! The work you are doing to document that family history is fascinating and I’m sure will be much appreciated by your family. But so interesting that the middles are forgotten. I know for me it’s because I’m not noticing them. Thanks for adding this great comment to the conversation!

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  4. “So I’ve started taking a brief pause in the middle of the day to just notice how things are going. It’s a small practice that I hope will help me appreciate the middle of my life more.” Brilliant, Wynne! A small but powerful mindfulness moment. I’m going to try this too.

    At 62, I have three more years before I age out of the “midlife” category. I’m trying to be more mindful of and grateful for the many simple joys throughout my days. I’m still guilty of rushing through to the end of a task, though.

    I love the photo of you and your children!

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    1. Thank you, Natalie! I like that picture too.

      So, 65 is the official end of middle-age? I didn’t know that. I suspect that most of us rush through to the end of the task for obvious reasons but hopeful a small, mindfulness moment makes a difference!

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  5. The middle of the trilogy is usually the weakest part. The middle child has the hardest road. These are things I’ve noticed about the middle. Like others, the idea of taking a moment for mindfulness in the middle of the day appeals. We definitely get caught up.

    I love the story about your daughter. Children are so funny and sweet at times, so oddly solicitous and gentle when we’re sick (or they think we are). It’s lovely to see.

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    1. Ah yes – middle of the trilogy and middle child, great examples, Em! And you are so right that kids are so sweet when they try to take care of grown-ups. Makes me chuckle just thinking of it. Thanks for coming to my blog and commenting – it’s nice to see you here too!

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  6. A lovely photo and a remarkable little woman is Miss O! On the subject of why older folks appear to have more wisdom (or happiness and gratitude), I think it might also have to do with the neurochemical changes within them. I’ve met many, my dad being the first one who prompted the thought, that the changes I observed in him didn’t come from deep thought (he was a bright man, but not a philosopher), but seemed to mellow out past middle age. My own take on much of human behavior and the way it changes over time is that there are likely many determinants.

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    1. Oh, that’s an interesting thought about the neurochemical changes – makes a lot of sense that there would likely be many reasons we change when we age. I would hope one of this is the knowledge we’ve acquired over the years. For all that contributes to it, it’s nice if we bend towards gratitude.

      Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comment, Dr. Stein!

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  7. I’m chuckling at your daughter’s full circle moment at the end. Kids can be quite blunt and direct that it’s unintentionally hilarious.

    I agree with your assessment between our perspective as adults vs kids about the fragility of life. I am glad that our kids can have the freedom of the fear of death but also can appreciate how empathy through watching a film can be developed as well.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for the film!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said – unintentionally hilarious! As you can tell from this post, I didn’t rush in to try to talk her out of her solicitousness but it ended just the same. But you’re right – it’s nice that things like movies can help them develop their empathy,.

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  8. I think it’s healthy that your daughter wants to take care of you a little more because of something that she saw. We should all take the extra time to give our loved ones more support and I think it’s amazing that she was that insightful!

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