Our local Giant supermarket has introduced hand scanners so that you can just walk up and down the aisles, collecting your groceries, while scanning them and bagging them right in your cart. Checkout involves downloading the inventory from the hand scanner into a self-serve checkout station. It's pretty cool. For produce, you pick out your fruits and vegetables, take them to a weigh station, enter the item code and it prints out a scanable label.
Here in Rehoboth, it's spring. Even though we're facing a (weekday) move to Washington DC in just about a month, Craig wanted to put in his annual garden. Since I'm no longer working 24/7 on my coaching business, I've been available to help shop at Lowe's and lug bags of soil and mulch around (which is about the extent of my gardening expertise). Last week, we came home with a Jeep-load of plants of several varieties.
What does our mutual shopping experiences have to do with midlife? Hold on . . . I'm getting there.
Last week, Craig picked up two or three of those vegetables that you make pickles out of and brought them to the weigh station. Looking up the PLC code for the item was a challenge, because, as long as he stood there looking at the vegetables in his hands, the name just wouldn't come to him. He stood there, helplessly staring at the list of vegetables and codes (hundreds of them), and looking at the items in his hands, stuck. Finally, he started looking through the pictures of vegetables displayed on the computer screen until he finally found them: cucumbers!
Yesterday, we were admiring the plants that Craig and planted in our giant glazed pots scattered around the yard. He had skillfully mixed jasmine on metal poles with vinca vine cascading over the edge of the pot with these bright red annuals for contrast. Bright red annuals. Were they begonias? No. What were they? We stared at each other in silence. Craig went into the shed to sort through his large collection of plant tags, but to no avail. The red flowers remained nameless. In frustration, I came inside to the internet and googled 'red annuals.' On the third or fourth page of photos, I finally found them: geraniums!
It's scarce comfort to realize that such (ever-more-frequent) memory lapses in midlife are often the result of having to search through increasingly extensive and complex data banks of memories. It's more a factor of a full and overly-stimulating life than OBS (organic brain syndrome). That knowledge doesn't help at all when you want to offer a friend a dish of cucumber salad or tell him about how well your geraniums are doing. If it's not happening to you yet . . . get ready, 'cause here it comes!
The realities of midlife — memory lapses, menopause and andropause, aging features, career change, relationship issues — are never easy to face or to deal with. That's why so many of us choose not to. 'Perhaps,' we tell ourselves, 'if I ignore it, it won't affect me.' I want . . . I demand . . . my comfortable routine, and I will banish any suggestions that something might disturb my sense of security. By midlife, generally speaking, lives have become symphonies of routine. Even the problems that we complain about most often are 'normal' problems. In spite of our grousing and griping about them, there's a sense of security that comes with focusing our attention on fixing the next thing that breaks. However, if it hasn't happened to you yet, midlife presents the perfect context for the collapse of your world, and pretending that it's not coming won't help you at all.
An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale just hit d'Aquila, Italy in the middle of the night, catching the residents of that ancient city asleep in bed. Nobody was expecting it. Nobody was ready for it. It can be different for you: midlife doesn't have to catch you off-guard. You can prepare. You really don't have to do anything: you only have to be aware of the issues that are approaching. There are only three, really: your career, your relationships, and your health. Life is preparing to send you challenges in all three of these areas. In your career: are you ready with your exit strategy? Do you know what's next for you? In your relationship: have you built a sturdy foundation of trust and communication, so that when (not if) serious lifestyle changes hit, you'll both be ready for them? In your health: are you committed to doing whatever it takes to face the challenges that await you? Are your healthy habits in place now, or are you waiting 'until'?
You don't become prepared for life's eventualities by following your routine at all costs. Preparedness means deliberately breaking out of your routine, disrupting your schedule, letting go of some the 'important' features of your existence so that you can focus more clearly on what's essential. Look at your life as it is today and, in the words of Robert Kriegel, "If it ain't broke . . . break it!" In midlife, more than at any other period of your existence, taking the next step forward requires questioning everything and rethinking everything. Otherwise, when life does come at you with the next unexpected swipe (big or small), you just may not be ready. By the way, how are your geraniums doing?