The following is a guest post from Anna “Muddy River Muse” Schmidt. Anna, like so many of us at this age, has reinvented herself more than once. And she has discovered, as so many of us have, that it is the questions that often move us forward, rather than the answers.
I was offered the senior’s discount again last week. Twice. Time to go back and get my hairdresser to perform that magic she does to make the white hair that frames my face match the darker grey on the back of my head. At 52 I’m happy to embrace the grey, but I’m not quite ready for the white.
The white was hardly a surprise, as a quick glance at any of the women in my family albums will tell you. No more a surprise than the lines around my eyes and those tenacious chin hairs.
What surprised me were the questions. And I’m not talking about mundane middle-age-memory-loss questions like “what was I meaning to pick up at the store on the way home?” or “where did I leave my keys?” I’m talking about the big existential questions. Those rearranging-your-beliefs and figuring-out-who-you-are kinds of questions that I thought I had taken care of in my 20s, thank you very much. Who knew that the answers to those questions would wear out and need replacing in middle age along with my dental fillings?
Questions about my career. Questions about relationships. Questions about faith and future. Questions even about the questions.
I’m finding my 50’s to be an age of paradox. In some ways I know who I am with greater certainty and confidence than ever. And yet, here from the safety of that certainty, I find myself testing—questing—stretching my thinking out of a deep curiosity to see what the universe looks like on the other side of everything to which I once held firm.
The outcome of all that questioning is an emerging view of the world that would have shocked the pants off of my 20-year old self. I’ve heard it said that men, as they age, become more conservative in their views, but women become more radical. That has certainly been true for me.
It’s like I started out with an assortment of building blocks which, in my youth, I worked to assemble into a structure with some integrity. But as time passed, I was continually handed new building blocks. For a while I could get away with attaching these onto the original structure, but eventually the random addition of new components started to compromise the integrity of the whole. And so here I find myself three decades later, startled by the realization that the only way to recapture that sense of integrity is to dismantle the whole thing and build again from scratch. Of course, now that I am consciously using all the pieces to their best advantage, I have some hope that the resulting structure will be stronger, and perhaps a little more beautiful.
I didn’t expect to be reinventing myself at this point in life. I thought that I was reinventing myself when I divorced seven years ago, but I see now that I was just getting warmed up.
Back in my twenties, when I was inventing myself the first time around, I remember a tremendous sense of anxiety. What if I get it wrong? What if I head down the wrong path? Make the wrong choice? Back the wrong horse?
But this reinvention is much less scary. When you’ve wandered down the wrong path often enough you know that there will always be another choice ahead that can correct your course. For that matter, you know that you also had a lot of great adventures wandering down the wrong paths, and sometimes the wrong path turns out to be a really great shortcut to a fantastic destination you didn’t know you were seeking until the moment you arrived.
If you would like to submit a guest post to Guerrilla Aging, please send it to email@example.com.