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first person

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Illustration by Rachel Wada

For the record, I’ve got two more years. I like to be prepared. Lately, I’ve been pondering the purpose of the middle-aged woman in society. No more a young ingénue and not yet old enough for the title of wise sage: we find ourselves in this in-between space where our children grow more independent while our elders grow reluctantly more dependent. This is the same space where our sexuality is becoming less visible, but our ability to love and sacrifice is rock solid. What does it mean to be a middle-aged woman in today’s society? It means surprises. A newfound passion, a hard-earned career promotion, seeing our children graduate from high school and leave the nest all while our elders need an altered pace from us. Gentle, understanding, sensitive and respectful. And so it is. This altered pace. I find myself sharing with friends that the time between when one life event occurs and another hits has become shorter – leaving the time to recover or celebrate feel like a breathless race.

Not long ago on the same weekend when one of my closest friends was celebrating her wedding, our neighbourhood congregated to honour the life of another friend who died suddenly, leaving her daughter and husband altered forever. The day after the wedding, my friend’s father, with whom I was very close, died. I was able to kiss him goodbye but was unable to attend my friend’s memorial. Major life events have sped up and it is more and more difficult to pause and rest before the next pain point descends.

The German language, known for its one-word captions of cataclysmic change, has a word for this transition state I find myself in. It is the true embodiment of Weltschmertz where I find the weariness of the weight of the world on my heart. My heart feels bruised and aches. This is what empathy feels like.

In Latin, the phrase lacrimae rerum refers to the “tears of things” or, in some translations, that the universe feels our pain. How I prefer to define it is the feeling where pain defines the essence of the human experience.

But my all-time favourite word that seems to capture what I feel most days is mono no aware – the Japanese phrase for the overwhelming melancholy for the impermanence of things. I see examples of this expression every day that leaves me feeling like someone has taken their fingernails and scraped them up and down my forearms leaving me raw, alive and exposed. Overexposed.

Hurtling toward 50, I find the hardest thing to face is my own pride. I have had to admit defeat and on many occasions, own up to a truce. That is when I stop, rewind and realize that there is tremendous power in being a middle-aged woman. It is the confidence to put our own needs aside, to shift perspective and be there for a parent, a child, a spouse, a close friend or a colleague. We are the human safety net. Without us middle-aged women around the world, life would grind to a halt.

As I pick up my orthotics and those ridiculous undergarments meant to protect our thighs from chafing, I am reminded that while I am still desirable, I am finishing my reproductive role. These same soft curves which held my babies close now wait to hold future generations up. I like to think of this position of ours in society as a newfound strength: one that offers us a clear reflection on the years which have sped by, where love-handles and sore knees are our reminders of the days we have loved deeply.

I’m known to be ambitious, a focused and driven person who operates every day on top speed. But I can admit that some days I hit the wall. I am coming to learn that the full potential of a middle-aged woman is to actively slow down and assess who in my life needs my energy most.

I will move through these mid-life years with the confidence and flexibility to shift gears and stop more frequently to hold on to my daughters’ hands and wait, with patience and kindness, for my son to text back from university. I hope to take my parents out for lunch for no special reason and to compliment a colleague, just because.

Our middle-aged superpower is that we are the true witnesses to the details of time change. Ours is the power to breathe hope into world-weariness, infuse love into tears and steep our empathy into deep corners, while holding strong to our own unexpected paths. This is our true superpower. And there’s no manual for any of this.

We have choices. And what I can choose is to manoeuvre out of the fast lane I’ve been hurtling through at reckless speed and come to peace with the fact that life is wide. I am learning how to survey my landscape laterally instead of always directly ahead.

Without a map of what’s to come, no manual to guide our next steps, my hope is that I move forward as an elegant, self-effacing woman. I hope I will respond with grace to the next great challenge and to give more and more of myself without anyone watching. As I prepare to enter my 50s, I know some people will call this middle age, I will call it growing up.

Suzanne Scott lives in Vancouver.

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