By Laura McCollough Moss
I’ll be fifty years old this year. Approaching this milestone has catapulted me into a period of life review and evaluation. I’ve registered to complete my bachelor’s degree on-line; a pursuit I have wrestled with for a long time. Isn’t it a little late? Following a full-time class schedule while maintaining a marriage, pet ownership, empty-nest motherhood and a fitness regimen (a paralyzing concept), I’ll finish at the age of fifty-two. Then what? I’ve managed a fairly successful career with an associate’s degree. At this point, the bachelor’s would be a stepping stone to a master’s or beyond- still more work. Regret taps me on the shoulder. If I was going to choose this path, I should have done so years ago.
The trouble with mature womanhood is that we become so darned rational. Life experience bites us in the backside one too many times, resulting in our greatest disadvantage; wisdom. That’s a good thing, or so I thought. I got into the habit of bestowing my wisdom on anyone who would listen. I’ve become so wise that I can chart my own life and that of any unwitting subject seeking my advice. Not wise enough to understand that the poor soul may need only a listening ear and validation, I launch into an analysis of their drives, weaknesses, and self-concept. The guy’s no good, your kids are over-indulged, and you clearly haven’t resolved your issues with your father. If you don’t feel inadequate when you come to me, you certainly will by the time we’ve finished talking. No need to thank me, I have all the answers. Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder if the greatest wisdom works in reverse. Consider this phrase: I know better. Do I? How have I come to think so?
The facebook ® status of a young friend reads “I want the fairy-tale ending”. Immediately I’m conjuring up a profound comment that will bring her to her senses. These young women, will they ever learn? I’ve got to help her abandon that starry-eyed naiveté. She needs to know that blind faith and hopefulness will break her heart. That’s when I stop and realize that I am waxing philosophical on a social network! The kid fires off a wistful thought as she leaves a movie theatre, and I’m channeling Dr. Phil. It’s clearly time to get over myself. Anyway, what if she’s got the right idea?
There are a generous handful of reasons why looking into a mirror these days is more painful than it used to be. I see the effects of gravity and, reflected with them, a distasteful, middle-aged sensibility. My ‘big-girl panties’ were hard won, but it is time to shed them in favor of a new style. As I step back from the delusion of omniscience, I feel the dawn of realization. I cannot hope to grow if I allow jaded assumptions and presumed disappointment to get in front of me. This serendipitous gift of youth is just one benefit of a youthful outlook. When we don’t know better, nothing can stop us.
Of course, some of my apprehension is well considered. As I advance my academic education, there will be drama. I’ll surely struggle with assignments and time management. Maybe I’ll cry over deadlines, or pull some all-nighters to get papers done. Maybe broadening my mind will make me restless and dissatisfied with the life I’ve settled into. Maybe everything will get stirred up and messy. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll resurrect my dreams; whatever they are. The idea is frightening to tell the truth. It is also very exciting, as though I can go back in time with all of the enthusiasm and anticipation I once possessed and, thanks to Mother Time, the capacity to fully appreciate them.
Much is made of what we know for sure. We take comfort in our accumulated knowledge and expertise at life. We mistake complacency for self-assurance, when in fact it is a safety net. Letting go of it may mean the difference between contentment and true happiness. I certainly do not know this for sure, but I have nothing to lose by trying. Someone once told me that we are born with our eyes tightly closed, crying, with clenched fists, and that we die with our eyes open, relaxed, and with our palms open. It figures, doesn’t it, that acceptance is our final act.
And so it is settled. I will dust out my cluttered mind and change it. I will uncase my fearful heart and open it. I will face this challenge and any others that come, doing my best to ignore all preconceptions. I will make my children as proud as they have made me. When I falter I’ll turn to them, and they will offer unbiased support and encouragement as only they can. Thankfully, they don’t know any better.