It's Awkward!

Dear Matthew,

I hardly know where to begin!

When you shared the metaphor about the plane crash in the middle of nowhere as a way of understanding how it feels to find yourself in midlife, so many thoughts came to mind. I hadn’t realized how much our physical move to France paralleled the inner journey that I was experiencing at the same time. The survival tip “Be here now” could not have been more apropos.

Everything that I thought I knew about how to manage the basics in life went out the window when we moved cross-culturally. The milk was no longer in the refrigerator section of the grocery store, Thanksgiving was a regular work day, and the Post Office was closed for lunch…Every. Single. Day. And that doesn’t even touch on the issue of having to learn a new language. We had to learn to do life in a whole new way. Our old patterns were not just ineffective, they were harmful to ourselves and others.

After reading your letter about Surviving Survival I realized that I was in BOTH a physical new place (France) and that metaphorical new place (Midlife) all at the same time. While I had committed to the physical move, and was mentally prepared to “be here (in FRANCE) now,” the metaphorical move took me by surprise. Not like, “What?!? I’m 40! I didn’t know THAT was going to happen!!!” But more like, “Why don’t I feel fulfilled by my quiet times anymore?” and “Why do my prayers seem to bounce off the walls?” and “What am doing with my life?!?”

And just like moving across the pond did not make me suddenly fluent in French, reaching my forties did not make me suddenly fluent at navigating midlife. There was (and is) a big learning curve. In other words, just because I recognize that I’ve landed in the wilderness and decided to “be here now” doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly be adept at starting a fire or swinging an axe or foraging for food. As we create those new maps, there’s a whole of lot of trial and error, awkwardness, fits and starts, and wobbling along. Integrating new ways of being into who I am doesn’t happen over night. There’s a learning curve, and the first step, for me, was learning to be patient with myself.

And there’s also some grieving to do. Because some of who I am is going to die in this process. Beloved routines, pet habits, and precious traditions will have to be let go in order to live in this new place—both metaphorically and geographically. But I’m coming to realize that trying to keep those things alive is like trying to make soured milk potable. I’ve had to let go of pleasing people. I’ve had to let go of keeping up appearances. I’ve had to let go of some of my dreams. But until those things were released, I couldn’t truly “be here now.”

You asked about Ignatian Spirituality and a Rule of Life…as a matter of fact, BOTH practices have been instrumental in helping me to create my new maps. I’ll tell you what I’m learning through those in my next letter.

Lots of love,