Is it a crisis, and what defines being human?
Identity, midlife, and learning to live by learning to die
I’ve had a non-Covid virus for the last couple of weeks which in some ways I’ve rather enjoyed. I’ve not been hideously ill, just had a terrible throat - less talking, and zero energy - no doing.
It’s rather stating the obvious I know, but when you take talking and doing out of the picture, you’re pretty much left with being (and a wee bit of keeping up with the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard case). Other than that, I’ve barely been on social media at all and it’s been like opening all the windows and clearing the decks.
It’s a hard one because I do love social media, but I also recognise how much head-in-phone robs us of head-in-the-moment. It’s one or the other, minute by minute – and all these minutes add up.
I feel like I’m crossing a bridge
I recently caught up with a good friend who is doing the very brave and fabulous thing of jacking in her job and following her heart. She was giving me the lowdown on all of her exciting plans and then asked what I was up to. Usually, I have an arm’s length of plans and projects on the go but I’ve been slowly reducing them of late for one reason or another, some of which I’ve spoken about. But I described it in a way I’ve not thought about previously, “I feel like I’m crossing a bridge“ I said.
The kids are both pretty independent now, one is driving and the other will be soon, they both have other halves, part-time jobs and will soon be off to university. That stage of life dictated by packed lunches, world book day, sports day, parents evenings, term times and holidays, is coming to an end; a large chapter of my life is closing.
I don't know what’s ahead and weirdly, I’m ok about it!
I’ve accomplished quite alot over these last two decades, creating music, TV, radio, an online magazine, documentaries and podcasts, I even designed a women’s clothing brand at one stage but that bit the dust for complicated reasons that I won’t go into today. I let myself be defined by productivity alongside the schedule that parenting brings. I became so super productive that some people described me as a machine, which I loved at the time, but now I’m not so sure - but that’s ok, because we are all ok… wipes brow! Something is changing though and I have no idea what’s ahead. And you know what? I’m ok with not knowing.
I’ve always felt defined by what I do and the projects on hand, there’s been a huge element of keeping control in that too - todo lists, annual goals, ‘Hi, I’m Pipa, I’m working on a, b, c etc.’ But now I find that I’m not rushing to plan or fill the todo list. I feel like I’m supposed to take my time crossing, as though the answers are somewhere here on the bridge or in the wind. If I rush, I might just miss something.
Trust in the not knowing
There’s trusting to be had in the unknown, in God, in the universe, and in the process - however you choose to look at it.
I can see how this can feel like crisis, being on the bridge is quite a challenge! I’ve always called midlife crisis more of a midlife enlightenment, having been certain that with age and wisdom, comes a realisation that might motivate us to do things differently. But I think it’s not just about making changes, it’s also about letting go and allowing ourselves to connect with the essence of who we are. A whole load of rich goodness comes from that place.
I can understand how it can feel like a crisis though, receding hair lines and saggy boobs etc. The letting go of youth has it’s pains, and it’s even harder if we have let youth define us. It doesn’t take a genius to know that we can’t stay young forever, not even Madonna, as hard as she might try! But the passage of time is a privilege. I’ve had too many girlfriends die early before realising dreams of their own, or who left young families behind. Here I am with two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and I can’t tell you how much I wish my girlfriends had the same chance, so I want to make sure I don’t waste my gift of life, for them as much as for me.
Death comes to us all, so make sure you’re living!
Just this week we’ve seen Dame Deborah ‘Bowelbabe’ make headlines, and if there’s one thing other than check your poo that we can learn from her, it’s that we don’t know when our road will end. We ignore one of the very few certainties in this world. We will die. And it may come sooner than is convenient, so it makes sense for us to live - to fully LIVE our lives, doesn’t it?
I’m reading a book about death, and life - the two go hand-in-hand don’t they?
‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ by Mitch Albom is the most beautiful read which I highly recommend. It is short and surprisingly light for such a profound topic.
Morrie is at the end of his life and is sharing time with one of his previous students, Mitch, an ambitious young man now in his 30s, who’s trying to climb the ladder and prove himself to the world.
Am I being the person I want to be?
Morrie spends the book showing Mitch that in order to live, you have to learn how to die. Buddhists say they imagine a little bird on their shoulder and each day ask,
Is today the day? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?
The last question is particularly hard. Identity has always been central to the human plight for wholeness, and today seems to be more so than ever but in our quest for happiness, fulfillment, whatever it might be, these questions are gold!
The conversation around identity is off the charts to the extreme and I believe that it’s our heart calling out, yearning for connection, and yearning for peace in a world that is dictated by ones and zeros. As hard as we try, we are not computers and embracing our identity is vital for us to feel anchored and human. In an early part of the book, Mitch looks back over his life so far and says
The 80s happened. The 90s happened. Death and sickness and going bald happened. I traded lots of dreams for a bigger paycheck and I never even realised I was doing it. What happened to me?
I think it’s easy for us all to be swept along by the expectations of society. It takes strength to step aside and follow your heart, to be true to what matters most, to be our fully human selves. That’s what my friend is doing, and that’s what I hope we can all do (although not necessarily all jack our day jobs in!)
Morrie asks Mitch these 4 questions which perhaps cut through to the heart of who we are:
Have you found someone to share your heart with?
Are you giving to community?
Are you at peace with yourself?
Are you trying to be as human as you can be?
I think we try to be superhuman too much. I’m certainly guilty of that over the years, and there is little peace found on that path. There is value found in community and connection which surpasses any major life achievement or paycheck. Giving and sharing, propping up and leaning, laughing and crying with those who we love, fully sharing our hearts is where we find our fulfilled selves.
So whether you’re in the thick of school runs and cake bakes, or if you’re over the bridge and wondering ‘what happened to me?’ Wherever you are along the road, ask yourself those 4 questions and then you’ll find the path to living your fullest life, being who you are and who you want to be.
As a very wise person (I wish I could remember who it was!) said to me many many years ago…,
Human doings are defined by what they do, human beings are defined by who they are….
I hope we all embrace our humanity a little bit more this week, that we find new ways to connect and fill our rooms. Hooray for being human!