It’s not a big secret.
I’m getting totally middle-aged.
I’m generally okay with that, except when it comes to the things that aren’t awesome. Let me explain, for those of you who dread the 40s (or even the 30s). This amazing thing happened to me, and I’ve talked to plenty of people for whom it is also true: Somewhere in your middle thirties you kind of stop caring so much what other people think. You worry far less about opinions and concerns of strangers, which frees you to be your own kind of awesome. And you worry far, far less about the unimportant things that people you know might possibly care about, which reminds you that everyone is just out here doing his best and we can be generally supportive without being all up in each other’s business. You don’t love people any less, you just stress less if the whole world doesn’t love you back. It’s beautiful.
But there are less amazing things. Like the stupid eyes. I’ve had vision correction most of my life. I got my first pair of glasses in the first grade (and I distinctly remember how fabulous I was – both rocking my plastic frames and having superhero vision; trees had individual LEAVES, and I didn’t have to climb up to see them!). I’ve been corrected enough to be completely comfortable. Thirty years of contact lenses kind of helped me take for granted that I could see whatever I needed to see without any real inconvenience. But seriously, the week I turned 40, I started noticing the stupidity that is my totally corrected vision being somewhat incorrect. For instance, I can’t look at my phone for a while and then glance up and focus on the room around me. It takes this annoying moment of adjustment. And some blinking. And I do that old lady move when I look back at my phone – you know the one – where the arm stretches out, moving the phone nearer and farther and nearer and farther again, seeking for the perfect visual distance to make sense of the blob that is Facebook or 2048 or email correspondence.
Here’s the part that appears to be a digression, but may, in fact, connect to the other stuff in a minute. (You can go ahead and trust me on this.) I’m a champ at being critical. It might be my best talent. If you don’t think that’s a talent, I’m sure you can ponder it for a moment and discover loads of ways that a critical eye or a critical mind might be useful in the world. It helps when I’m proofreading – mistakes sort of leap off the page at me. It helps me see the most likely end of certain opportunities and saves me from what I’m willing to call stupid decisions. It helps when I’m making food choices, because if it’s not delicious, it’s not going in my face. It comes up every day in my parenting, which although still counting as a talent, now crosses lines into less fantastic territories. And the criticism is everpresent when I self-correct (or, in less effective times [moments, days, years], simply self-loathe).
And guys, here’s where these things all combine. The sweet spot of middle age is where the eyeball dumbness, the myopia, infects the critical eye. I’m in no position to say if this is A Thing for everyone, but I totally see it as A Thing for me. The hard edges of judgment are fuzzing out. It’s much less easy for me to focus in the details of other people’s stupidity. I’m significantly less likely to call someone out for being, well, Wrong these days. We’re not talking about murderers, here. Some things are always just not okay. We’re talking about my personal quickness to judge someone – without knowing their motivations, their backstory, their current struggles – losing some of its sharpness, some of its venom. I no longer assume that when I look at something, I see all the pieces of it at the same time. Physically or spiritually or emotionally. My willingness to roll my eyes and write someone off has lessened. My ability to invent generous possibilities for the guy who cuts me off, for the lady who yells at her kid, for the person who disappoints, it’s increasing. And I like it.
It’s possible that I’m reverting. Maybe a psychologist would see this as a middle-aged cry for help, a Pollyanna Syndrome (do you think that might actually be a thing? wouldn’t that be funny?), a manifestation of Long-Repressed Issues. But if that’s the case, I don’t want to be fixed. I kind of like this new, non-HD vision, this ability to act and judge and respond with more love than criticism. For all the clarity that I may be losing, I’m gaining something more focused and more useful. Generous perspective. And I want to keep that growing.