Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The In-Between Times

"Precious Moments" by Pino
Life ebbs and flows. There are periods of great intensity where we are focused intently on the task or purpose at hand. The childbearing years are very often this way. We are easily swept away by the demands of the day and planning for our children’s future. There’s little time to think about what we might need or want or reflect on our actions. Our days are filled with a whirlwind of activity that hurdles us through time as we hang on for dear life only marginally controlling the outcome.
These years can seem to end quite abruptly when our children become independent and leave home. It was the job we set out to do as parents and yet we find it alarming to quite suddenly find ourselves dispensable. We remember very clearly when only moments ago they couldn’t take a breath without us. They are becoming self-sufficient. That’s what they are supposed to do.
It’s easy for us to forget how we were at their age, to forget how little a part our own parents played when we were in our late teens and twenties.  When we are facing the quiet, empty nest, we can only think of how lost we feel. We begin to doubt our lovability when our children choose to spend their vacations with friends rather than at home with the family. As our lives slow down, the silence can be deafening. It is easy to feel lost and adrift, wondering what happened.
The quiet times, the in-between times, such as this, can be frightening. These times happen throughout life, before, during or after a significant transition or life change. Sometimes the experience is more intense and noticeable than at other times. It is difficult to anticipate them and it often takes time to recognize what is happening as we easily resort to fear and doubt to fill the hole within us.  We wonder if we will we ever find a new direction and ask ourselves questions such as what did I do wrong to end up here? What should I be doing? What should I have done?
We assume that we are to blame and can’t even imagine that the silence and emptiness might be there because we’ve did something right, or because we completed a life purpose that we worked diligently to complete. In such situations as raising our children, it’s easy to see the beginning where our job began, but it’s extremely difficult to envision the end, where our job has ended.  
In the quiet space, the in-between time, it’s easy to become obsessed with the past, and focus on all those things we wish we had done and did not do or the things we did we wished we had not. This can be especially true if our young adult children are floundering or having problems in life. It’s easy for us to blame ourselves. It’s easy to shift our focus from the quiet to regret.
Just as easily in this quiet, in-between time it is easy to obsess about the future and live in fear about what is around the corner. After our children leave home, or we retire from our work, or we finish caring for an aging parent, it’s easy to fill the void by imagining that our own lives are over, or at the very least, just around the corner. It’s easy to fear that we’ve run out of time.
Midlife is too often a time when we allow ourselves to become filled with fear and regret. We’ve finished everything we envisioned for ourselves when we were young and forgot to envision the “after” time.  Perhaps this is quite possibly because the previous generation had a different idea of this “after” time. The lucky retired and moved to a warm and sunny location. The unlucky became sickly and died.  Things are quite different now.
A recent statistic revealed that people now reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 18.6 years (19.8 years for females and 17.1 years for males). In other words, after our children leave the nest we quite possible still have 20 to 25 years left to enjoy. After we turn 65, the traditional age of retirement, we still have 20 years left to do all the things we’ve always wanted to do.
So, rather than filling the hole with fear and regret, perhaps if we dare to just “be” in that quiet place for a time, and choosing not to run away from it, we might just discover that there is a whole wellspring of life left within us. Too often we look outside ourselves for direction and meaning in life when real truth and direction can only come from within. In the quiet, in the silence, if we choose to listen intently to our inner voice, we will discover the next turn on our path and learn once more to find our sense of direction and life giving hope.

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