I used to think I was smart. But recent weeks have been filled with epiphanies completely new to me that likely everyone else simply calls “obvious stuff we’ve always known”.
I thought I understood why someone would have a so-called midlife crisis. (Although “crisis” is not the word I would really use.) As we realize death is rushing at us like the ground after we jump from an airplane, we think, fuck. I’d better live this life while I can. I’m reading this book that quotes Marcel Proust’s response to a question about what people would do if the world were about to end. He says that:
“Life would suddenly seem wonderful… just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it — our life — hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly… We shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.”
I read that and think, yes! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say. Every moment has a backdrop of impending death. Live life now, is the whisper I always hear. Because you won’t have the chance forever.
Only now (I did say this was about an epiphany, and the whole death thing is clearly not the thing that’s new to me as it’s practically all I ever write about), I realize that sometimes a midlife crisis is something else. Realizing you can get better at things.
I know. I told you it’s possible I’m not that smart.
In some ways, my life has been a series of black and white. Either I was good at something or I wasn’t. So I either did that thing or I didn’t. It didn’t cross my mind that if I wasn’t good at something, I could keep at it and get better. If I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it. That just wasn’t the thing I had talent for, so onward to something else.
As a kid, I was always good in school. Sure, I didn’t know everything. I had to learn things. But learning came easy. It was something I could do. Athletics, not so much. My stepdad said I wasn’t athletically inclined and I took my lack of abilities to mean they didn’t exist, and no amount of practice would make me better at them. It’s not that I didn’t want to try things that were hard. I just didn’t know that trying would do any good.
When I say I want to do everything that scares me, I think part of what I mean is that I want to try things I’m not good at. A few days ago, I tried indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel. We each got three tries. The first time was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing and I was terrible at it. My first thought was that I was just bad at it and this just wasn’t something I could do. But I made myself try again. The second time was better. I knew more what to expect. I listened to the instructor and made adjustments. It was still scary, but I realized that how good you are at something the first time you try it isn’t as good as you can get at it. The third time, I jumped into the wind and the instructor took me to the top of the tunnel. Understand I was still terrible at it, but I did considerably better than the first time.
As hokey as it may sound, it may have been pole dancing that triggered this epiphany. At my first lesson, I couldn’t do any of the spins. At all. And I thought, well, I guess this just isn’t something my body can do. But the instructor said of course I couldn’t do it the first time. Really? Of course?
I kept on and now, while I’m still fairly terrible, I am able to do the things that seemed impossible in that first class. This idea of either being able to do something or not is just another way I’ve been trapping myself. Just because I can’t do something doesn’t mean I can’t do something. Try everything. Maybe I’ll be good at it and maybe I won’t. And maybe I’ll get better at it and maybe I’ll love it and maybe it’ll terrify me but why not at least try it? After all, we are humans, and death may come this evening. (Although I’m really hoping that it doesn’t.)