Jeanette Brimner sees entering one’s middle years as a golden opportunity to start fulfilling some of the dreams which we entertained when we were younger.
In the Book of Genesis, Abraham’s elderly wife, Sarah, is astonished to learn that her dream of bearing a son will come true, despite her age. She represents the part of us that has become settled and secure in mid-life. In her book Dear Heart Come Home: The Path of Mid-Life Spirituality, Joyce Rupp says, referring to Sarah: “Suddenly her life gets terribly messy – she hears an inner call to pack up and head into unknown territory. It is the call of skin shedding”.
Desire to write
The realization that my life had become too safe and unfulfilled began in my late thirties and intensified in my early forties. Raising four closely spaced children and doing periodic substitute teaching had kept me busy in those early years. During this time I was too exhausted to write, but when I was in my late thirties and the children grew less dependant, I began writing in earnest.
Unfortunately, in my early forties, when I finally had the time to follow a new path, a bout of clinical depression sapped both my confidence and creative energy. But once I became well again I started writing in earnest and sending my work out to editors. It was not long before I began seeing my work in print.
A liberating time
Because I’m writing, which not only gives me joy but fulfills my need to spread God’s love to others, the empty nest syndrome has scarcely affected me. I agree with what Sue Patton Thoele says in her inspirational book, The Women’s Confidence: Meditations on Strength and Inspiration, “Women are not always bereft at the emptying of the nest. Many, in fact, find it one of the most liberating and abundant times of life”.
A few of my friends are also blossoming in middle age. One spent the first part of her life raising five children, but during the last several years she has rediscovered her artistic talent and now paints scenes on emu eggs which she sells as gifts.
Another friend learned to do cross-country skiing and began canoeing and camping when she was in her fifties. At eighty years old, she is still active. And recently I talked to a woman who yearned all her married life for independence because her husband kept a tight reign on her finances. She’s earning all her own spending money now, by sewing and by selling cosmetics.
At the turn of the last century, most people felt grateful if they lived to be middle-aged. My maternal grandmother never expected to live long. Every Christmas, after turning forty, she would sadly remark to her husband and children, “Well, this may be the last Christmas I’ll ever enjoy”. She lived to be eighty-four, which surprised herself as much as her family!
Today, with all the opportunities available to us, such as college education courses and finding information on the internet, there are few excuses for becoming settled and stagnant in mid-life. There’s always something new to discover and learn.
When I was in my late thirties and forties I became obsessed with reading about other writers. L.M. Montgomery’s first novel was not accepted until it had been rejected nine times, and she was thirty-six when her first book finally came out. Her perseverance renewed my hope that I could get published too, someday. My insatiable appetite to learn all about writers helped prepare me to pursue my own writing career.
Negativity of others
In mid-life, many of us are less fearful of seeking new roads, because we are less concerned about what people think of us. But we are still sensitive to criticism to some degree, and some people try to discourage our dream-seeking with thoughtless remarks. My friend who paints says that when she first started using her talent her family showed little confidence in her ability. “Are you sure you can do it?” was their most frequently asked question. Now they are amazed at her skills and are proud of her.
If I had listened to others, I would have given up long ago. “You have delusions of grandeur,” one woman told me outright, when I said I wanted to be a writer. Another commented, ‘Well, if you can’t get anything in print, at least your grandchildren can enjoy your work, and it’s a nice hobby’.
Fortunately I received encouragement and positive feedback from professionals concerning my children’s books, articles and poems, so I maintained the courage to follow my dream. Now that I have had enough work sold to say I’m a professional writer, my family are thankful I never gave up, and so am I.
You may feel that you don’t have any specific talents, but still sense something missing in your life. Well, I’m sure God has blessed you with innate gifts which might include a special ability to communicate and be sensitive to the needs of others. Or maybe you have good organisational skills, or the rare knack of listening to people who need an empathic ear.
One woman in her late thirties returned to school and fulfilled her dream of becoming a social worker. Another friend became a teacher. While she’s earning money being a substitute teacher, she’s also fulfilling her life-long dream of working with children.
Path to fulfilment
As Henri Nouwen says in his book Life of the Beloved: “Our gifts are the many ways we express our humanity. They are part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, trust and many others. By using them wisely we can feel fulfilled.”
Like Sarah, who felt she was too old to conceive a child, we may hesitate to take risks. We may fear to venture into fresh paths, experiment with new points of view and delve into unexplored territory. But with God’s help, our special talents, skills and gifts can enable us to enjoy a rich and rewarding time both in our middle years and those beyond.
This article first appeared in the Messenger (June 2004), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.