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?

Woof

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis

A couple of 82-year-olds that I know just got a puppy. Why is that so surprising?

Before I continue, let me dispense with the practicalities here. This couple has been married for 60 years, and are two of the most responsible and grounded people I know. They are the type of people who not only have a backup-plan but a backup-plan for the backup-plan. Also, they are surrounded by family that love them and will take the dog if the need arises.

With that said – why it surprising? As I know from training the puppies I’ve had in my life, a puppy is an investment. I think of my beloved golden retriever who passed away 5 years ago at almost 14-years old and I remember him as the amazing companion he was to me through my divorce and the start of my little family. But training him to be that companion took a lot of initial energy.

I think that we have a story that tells us that when we get to age X, we are supposed to stop investing. It might not be a conscious story but one that affects our choices nonetheless. We may or may not have adjusted that age upward based on the increasing longevity of humans but regardless, there is a time limit on when we are supposed to stop doing new things.

But, if we can be assured of the practicalities, why not get a puppy? At a time in life when one has a lot of free time, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have some young energy to keep you moving? And when your friends may be losing their hearing, isn’t there an upside to a companion that will listen to every word?

More than that, shouldn’t we be willing to keep trying as long as we are on this side of death’s door? It seems that we should at least consider whether the only thing stopping us is a story in our head that tells us there is an age where we shouldn’t love something new, try something different or take on a project just in case we won’t finish.

The couple that got the puppy are the parents of my very dear friend. When I was a senior in high school, my dad took a job in a church across the state and gave me a choice whether to move or not. This family took me in so I could finish out high school where I started. From me, their one-time wayward puppy to this new puppy, all I have to say is, “You’ve got a good home, Lady!”

(featured photo is my beloved dog, Biscuit)