As we explore the theme of Belonging this month, I share my reflections on the in-between space of menopause ~ no longer young, but definitely not elders yet… where do we belong? I view the change of menopause as an alchemical process, a soul transformation, a gateway of initiation into the deepest realms of feminine power. It’s also a journey fraught with challenges in the outer world, challenges to our bodies and our social selves. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart! At fifty-one, I am in the midst of this initiatory process, and I send you dispatches from this wild uncharted territory at the heart of the feminine life-cycle.
I’ve noticed in places with extreme climates, the big public buildings often have airlock entryways. I don’t see them so often here on the West Coast, but I remember them from life in more hot and cold places. I remember the odd sensation of being suspended for a moment in a quiet perfectly neutral nowhere between the dust-smelling institutional coolness inside and the plunge into wild organic odor-carrying damp that is a humid summer day. Or between the eyelash freezing, lung clogging diesel scented cold of winter street and the dessicating (still dust-smelling) warmth of office building. The little neutral zone between had no particular character or odor – a place to be rushed through.
Blend this with another image: I was a child during the last years of the Cold War. There was always that scene, in fiction, movies, news, that scene of the exchange in the neutral zone, that bridge or weird barbed-wire guarded strip of nowhere between two worlds, between two ideas of the world. In the middle of the zone the briefcase or the beautiful spy was handed over. I thought about those in between spaces, the grass that grew there, or the moonlight that shone on the slick rails of the bridge. How were the grass and moonlight different in that nowhere space?
On my walk this morning, watching the sunlight sparkle on the wet grass, I felt: I’m there now, I’ve entered an airlock, a neutral zone between two atmospheres, two worlds, two ideas of the world.
The first fifty years of my life, a bank of memories, a huge institution, rooms full of files, vaults of jewels, dusty air. The first fifty years of my life, an ideology, an experimental state, ministries of justice, propoganda.
I could stay inside, safe from the weather, whatever it is. I could choose not to be assaulted by those extremes, those unknown odors. I could continue to be a good citizen, stay put, do my duty to the institutions I have created. Could I, though? I think it’s already too late. I’m in the neutral zone. I’ve already defected. Can’t go home.
Sounds like a lot of drama, but it’s really all the same world. The atmosphere is familiar no matter the ideology. The natural temperature feels good, it connects me to the greater whole.
Midlife is this great passage for which we are wholly unprepared. At twenty-five or thirty there is nothing compelling us to ask what fifty feels like or how to be ready; we really don’t want to know. It’s at least unromantic if not a little repugnant. Old age might be a far away glamourous place, look at Georgia O’Keefe or Leonard Cohen. But midlife? Bah. Softening bodies and softening ideals. We don’t want to imagine a life without its crisp, ambitious edges.
But getting here we drop into a void. What little predictive imagining we extended into this time turns out to be wrong, just wrong. We’re not so certain, we’re not so settled. And we’re not so soft. There’s something unprecedented happening. It’s a huge spaciousness combined with a sudden, biting, mortal fear.
I watched my husband move through this neutral zone a couple of years ago. Even at 47, I wasn’t there yet. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around what he was going through. He saw both his parents die within a year, and after his father was gone, he came untethered for a few months. He moved quietly and had a lot of headaches. He couldn’t work as much and work didn’t make him happy. He became angry at himself for falling asleep in his chair with his head back exposing the raw planes of his face, just like his father’s face.
And he moved through this time and into a new world. Vigorous and ready to take on new challenges, he gave up gluten and began to study for a new professional certification. He rides his bike and pays more attention to details of all kinds. He seems happy. I look at him across the room and see he is already in that other country, that other atmosphere. He seems to possess stamina and joy.
Meanwhile it’s me now, I’m lingering, maybe malingering, I don’t know. Losing a parent was part of my childhood, so losing the other one didn’t precipitate a time of mortal questioning for me, as it did for my husband. For me the untethered time has come through my experience of my woman’s body. I’m exhausted and anemic and lately my days are ruled by unmentionable symptoms. Female Issues. Shhh. “Normal” pronounces my doctor, then revises to “well, within the range of normal”. “Oh, yeah, that’s rough,” commiserate my older friends. “That sounds horrible,” say my younger ones, and change the subject.
Thanks to my within-the-range-of-normal exhaustion, I am lingering here in the neutral zone. In this long stretch of time and quiet, these months, I have moments to walk and stare into space, I have time to write, sleep, cook, time to let my dream of a new country, a new atmosphere slowly take shape before I walk out into it.
Can’t say when, but soon, can’t say how, maybe slowly, maybe suddenly I’ll walk out into it, my new, free country, my spacious, wild, hot or cold, humid or biting loud fragrant big and busy world, me the freshly minted citizen of this second half of my life.
This post was originally published in 2013 on The Artful Life.