I teach and work closely with two 30-something year olds. And I envy their solidity, their self-assurance, their knowledge of themselves. I remember when I was a 30-something teacher; I knew that I had all the answers, that I had weathered the storms of my inexperienced teacher-self, that I had grown confident in my interactions with my students. I knew who I was. I understood life. I was certain I knew the answers to whatever questions were on the horizon.
Perhaps this is what they mean by mid-life crisis; I no longer have the answers, and now, I am not even sure about the questions. When I was 30, I thought that I would continue to grow in confidence, assurance, and a sense of knowledge of my place in the world. However, here at mid-life, I pine for the olden days of my foolish youth and its convictions.
Perhaps my shifting life contributes to my mid-life lack of certainty. During winter vacation, I have shed my urban teacher working mom skin for a rural stay at home mom skin. This dual life has possibilities that perpetuate a chameleon-like state of intermission. At first, I wanted to write that I was not, in fact, in limbo, but really, I am sort of treading water — to mix my metaphors. If my chameleon could swim, it would shed that old skin mid-stream. This intermission idea suggests that I enter a comedy flick, eat my popcorn, and then return to the ticket lobby before the movie is over, only to enter a thriller, but maybe with Raisinets this time. I guess mid-life means never finishing a movie (or a snack).
I can, however, finish books.
I’ve just finished reading Chang Rae Lee’s, The Surrendered, and I’m left with haunting images. The frozen dead, the limbless, the scorched. Indeed, Lee also left me with a lingering doubt, wonder and awe, even a wordlessness. His book questioned the goodness of life, the value of relationships, and the souls we nurture. In its unflinching depiction of the Korean War, Lee’s book revealed the war in deeply horrifying, but also tender, human terms. He also gave us his imperfect heroine, June, a survivor of the war, determined to seize her life, in whatever form it takes. June’s harrowing story leaves her not full of self-doubt, but assured about her will to live, about her choice to forge an existence and meaning from nothingness. June’s losses, and the losses of many of the characters in this novel, illustrate the toughness and determination that it takes for any one person to search for meaning, to not abandon mid-way through the movie or journey. I suppose June illustrates how to keep treading water until you can stop long enough to find your place and make your peace.
This skin that I’ve shed, it feels papery thin. I’m growing new tough skin in order to prepare for the next round of school — the long road from January to spring break. Someone, throw me a life vest, and some moisturizer wouldn’t hurt either.