Memento Mori: In Praise Of The Midlife Crisis


I make decay look good, people. (Image Source)

You think I'm about to make a joke, don't you? You're hoping I'm about to bust out a "Ha ha!" and then move on to something happier and less discomfiting, aren't you? "But where are the poop jokes?," you'll desperately mutter, "and the pictures of cute children?" And me? Well, I'll chipperly inform you that those aren't here, Mrs. Torrance. Not today. Today we talk about our ultimate demise.

Go on. Get your shivers out. I'll wait.

(Image Source)

Feel a little better? Let's sally on.

As I was saying, we're all relentlessly racing toward a grave we can never escape. This is true. Whether you're religious or not, the fact remains that the people as we are here on earth will one day cease to exist. Maybe you think you're going to heaven, maybe you think you're getting your own planet, maybe you think you'll be born again, or maybe you think you'll just be worm food. Regardless of what you think, what you know is that, one way or another, you're sloughing off this mortal coil. Just like I am. Just like my kids are. Just like everyone we know and love will. It's kind of a bitch, and it's the way things go.

This fact has been more and more interesting and salient to me as I get older. I'm only 39, and don't look a day over 43, but I've begun thinking regularly about the inevitability of my decrepitude and demise. I'm at an age where my contemporaries and I are beginning to experience powerful health reversals. I've been lucky enough to maintain relatively good health (knock on wood), but some of my close friends are on the vanguard of confronting our first real encounters with age-related disability and mortality. We're hitting our 40's now, and the diagnoses are coming, for now slowly, forever surely. Our older relatives are dying. Our heroes are dying. And, next up? It will be us.

It will be us. It will be us. It will be us.

There's an understandable urge to ignore this truth. I get that, but I'm happier not participating in it. Instead, I find a giddiness in remembering that this meatsack I'm bumbling around in won't last forever. Recently I bought myself a watch, ostensibly so that I wouldn't get sucked into my phone's infinite time-suck every time I wanted to know what time it was. But my secret, unspoken desire to get a watch was to have a tangible reminder of time's transience attached to my body. It is a memento mori, without all the pain and cliché of tattooing a skull on my body. Because I habitually check my watch, I habitually think about the inevitability of my death throughout the day. As I routinely stop and consider my impermanence, it makes me smile. Shoot, I'm smiling now as I type this, because I'm here now. I'm healthy now. I'm happy now. And there is no guarantee that any of that is going to continue beyond the present moment.

None. Zero. Zilch. And so each continuing moment of life, of health, of good fortune or mere OK-ness is a victory in itself.

Was woken up at 6:15 by my daughter, who plugged the toilet, and then successfully unplugged it before its contents flooded the floor.


Some of you may recognize this for exactly what it is: A midlife crisis. I'm not that unique in this feeling, I imagine; perhaps only a little original in its positive framing. Because what is a midlife crisis if not a shocking recognition of one's fleeting mortality? It's the gut-level realization that our youth is gone, but that we're not dead yet, which prompts the most energizing urge to live a better life while we can. When defining one's values or realizing one's dreams at midlife is impossible, it can lead to the depression and discontent that the word "crisis" typically connotes in this context.

But "crisis" itself is a tricky word. Yes, its most common usage is as a term describing something catastrophically disastrous. But it also means, neutrally, a time of important transition with no regard to the negativity or positivity of the outcome. Sometimes, a crisis is merely a turning point, and a midlife crisis a harmless, victimless change. And for some, for me, a midlife crisis can lead to great things.

For example, it can lead to this:

April 14, one day after Thomas Jefferson's birthday and one day before Tax Day:

The perfect middle ground between Democratic Republicans and Federalists, a day that will live in glory!

OH YEAH, I DID. I did fly to New York with my willing, game, and generous spouse to realize a dream of seeing Hamilton on Broadway with our closest friends. Was it expensive? YES, but I have the money now. I may not later. Was it difficult? YES, but I have the strength and stamina to fly cross-country now. I may not later. Did it require others' sacrifice? YES, but my parents are willing and able to take the kids for long weekends now. This may not be an option later.

So, yeah. YEAH, I DID. And it was an excellent and perfect conjunction of both the manic willingness to live this moment and the fortuitous ability to do so. One day I'm going to be too old for adventures like this. One day we won't have the money for adventures like this. One day we'll have obligations and obstacles to living adventures like this. And I'm so grateful that my midlife crisis spurred me on to making this decadent insanity a reality.

Now I have no explanation for last weekend, really:

I left my heart, and a whole bunch of tear-sodden tissues, in San Francisco.

But I can tell you that when you're looking 40 in the face, one of your favorite people invites you to sleep on her couch, and you get a free flight with miles, the exorbitant post-market cost of theater tickets just makes sense.

Plus, look at how cute we are.

Butt bustle in effect, y'all!

So, I'm going to ride this midlife crisis, and this life, to its conclusion with a smile on my face and some wonderful memories. I've had hard times, and I will have hard times again. I have always worked hard and will work hard again. But certain pleasures are uniquely available to me now, and this is all the more reason to enjoy them while I can. To quote another musical, everything "is only for now," and that is all the more reason to "look around at how lucky [I am] to be alive right now."

Momento mori, friends. Do your good work while you can. Grab your good times while you can. Live your good life while you can.

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