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May 10, 2010

Ironically, this is my Alma mater!

Lately I have been reflecting on the lost optimism of my youth, once such an integral part of who I was. Its absence disturbs me. I want it back! I want to feel all that giddy hope and excitement about the future I once had, the deep conviction that any problem could be solved, any dream could come true. I don’t like what has replaced this feeling; the relentless fear and anxiety that insist a catastrophe is just waiting around the corner.

When I was young, I was convinced I could and would have it all. Even in the middle of a clinical depression, I believed the future held hope. I walked forward knowing, not just believing, that one day my dreams would come true, or at least some acceptable version of them.

Somewhere along the way that joie de vivre went up in smoke. I’m waiting for it to be replaced with something deeper…like peace and wisdom.

The shift from hope to fear took place somewhere around the time I turned fifty. My husband had a heart attack and I came to the sudden and terrifying realization that he was not invincible, and neither was I. Our future together was anything but secure, regardless of our undying love for one another. In addition, career and life choices hadn’t worked out the way I had expected them to and to make matters worse I became acutely aware that I was running out of time.

Prior to the moment when the shift took place, I had been so focused on the daily struggles of raising children and making ends meet that I hadn’t noticed the time slipping by.

Years of relentless stress has taken its toll on my resilience and willingness to try new paths. I’m beginning to feel the aging process reshaping my sense of who I am.  I don’t like what I’m seeing and I desperately want a do-over.

We all hear stories about how “it’s never too late” to start something new. It doesn’t matter how old we are. Look at Colonel Sanders! He was seventy when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken. But he had something I don’t seem to have! Hope!

Without the optimism and sense of timelessness that is a given when we are young, it’s not so easy to take careless risks and damn the consequences. To sit idly by and watch the days go by, terrified to make a change doesn’t seem a welcome option either.

I can’t help but wonder how I am supposed to live with the uncertainty and complexity that has woven its way into my psyche. I used to be a person of faith but even that has been eroded by the ridiculousness of modern-day religion and the inadequacies of the traditional ones.

This may sound like a diatribe of pure and utter hopelessness. You’re probably asking yourself, “is she depressed?”  “Order the Prozac!”  But I think it’s something quite different. I believe it’s a change many of us go through at some point midway through our lives. We begin asking ourselves some hard questions, like how do we find hope in the face of certain death? Where can we discover joy when it hurts to get up in the morning or when we are plagued by illness? How can we look for newness in a life that has beaten us up and robbed us of our hope and faith?

I don’t have the answers just yet. I do know, however, that I am not ready to give up on finding something of value to replace the lost, and sorely missed, optimism of youth.

(This is a selection from my new book “Caring for Mom”.)

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