I started my forties looking too often into the mirror and getting tangled up in my thoughts – my goals, my shifting identity, my disappointments, my hopes. As I leave this decade behind, I find myself focusing less on me and more on how I might, bit by incremental bit, make the world more whole. – Jennifer Grant
Those two sentences capture what it is like to find yourself entering the crisis of midlife, and then, in time, moving through it toward a wiser, more mature way of being. Jennifer Grant’s lovely memoir about this journey, When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, And The Unexpected Grace of Midlife offers readers the gift of words about a time in life that doesn’t lend itself to quick fixes and glib answers.
What many of us find we need at midlife is the kind of storytelling found in the pages of this well-crafted memoir. Hearing the experience of others reorients us to God’s purposes during this disorienting time in life. Grant offers 19 brief vignettes about her own experience that may affirm your own midlife experience. In 19 short chapters, she tackles subjects including the ticking clock, friendships, family life, the quest to make meaning, appearance, and recalibrating her vocation. She writes with warmth, wisdom, and honesty. Grant respects her readers’ intelligence and experience.
Her chapter comparing the thankless job of a flight attendant to what’s required to parent teens is representative of the insight in the book. After noticing a flicker of frustration in the flight attendant’s eyes as she was running through her standard pre-flight safety speech to a plane full of people staring at the tiny screens in their hands, Grant had a lightbulb moment as she reflected on the flight attendant’s focus on the job she needed to do even though she knew no one was listening:
…her predicament felt eerily familiar. I opened my eyes and sat up straight. It can feel like this sometimes, I thought, to be the parent of teenagers. Not always of course, but yes, sometimes…
Since their births, we’ve raised them with the hope that they’ll be strong adults and able to make their ways in the world, independent of us. They need to develop their own friendships, cultivate their own senses of humor, and put their moral convictions to the test. So to accomplish all this and more, adolescents must engage in countless thorny, but crucial, tasks related to separating and individuating from their parents.
Like a seasoned flight attendant, we’re happier when we do not take our kids’ changing moods or behavior personally but remain focused on clearly communicating directions about safety, monitoring their progress academically and socially, and connecting in authentic ways with them. (Our journeys will be much smoother, too, if we provide snacks at regular intervals.)
Psychologist Carl Rogers famously noted, “That which is most personal is most universal”. This is the power of a well-crafted memoir. When Did Everybody Get So Old? is a very personal book – which gives it universal appeal, at least to the part of the universe who is about to enter midlife, or is in the thick of it.
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