They say that blessings come in disguise.
If so, my blessings are poorly disguised. They show up wearing false noses and funny eyeglasses and are instantly recognizable unless I am being completely thick-headed — and it is astonishing how often I am.
I had a really bad year a few years back when I lost my husband and my job and my home in rapid succession. All of this happened while I was living in Nigeria (which was not great to begin with). I realized immediately that this was very bad news. But I also figured out, pretty early on, that I had been given an opportunity to start my life from scratch. Nearly every day since I hear of someone else who has overcome tragedy, a dreadful illness, a setback, or disappointment in their life and found new meaning and purpose as a direct result of their terrible experience.
Somehow, it is almost harder to live with unexpected good news. “What the heck?” I say. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Part of the challenge of navigating changes at mid-life is that they don’t seem to follow any sensible trajectory. When I was in my 20s, things seemed to move slowly, but in an expected way. Thirty-plus years later, my life hopscotches from one thing to the next in a way that can be disorienting.
I started writing in earnest at age 50. I sold a book, started this column, and now am making plans to tour a show (with a musician) that features writings from the book and the columns. It has all happened so quickly, I find myself feeling stressed and out of sorts.
“What was it I was supposed to be working on?” I ask myself, as my attention gets divided and diverted and drawn to something else. I worry that I am missing something. I worry that I am not paying sufficient attention. How is it possible I am getting anything done without working like mad to do it?
Part of this, I am convinced, is because I don’t actually have to start from scratch, as I thought I did — at least not completely. By middle-age, we’ve all picked up a skill or two — even if it doesn’t always feel that way, even if those skills look quite different from the new thing we’re trying. It’s amazing how transferable these skills turn out to be.
I call this getting “credit for time served,” and it’s a wonderful thing. But it makes me feel a little woozy sometimes.
The cure for the dizziness and anxiety and disorientation is, like most things, surprisingly simple. I just have to remember to be grateful. Here I am, well past the beginning of “middle-age” starting something new and fun and exciting. The reason I get to do it is not because I deserve it or have worried enough, but because the world is filled with new, fun, exciting things. And for this I am very grateful.
I take a moment to remember that I have far more blessings than I could ever recognize. Nearly every time something does not go the way I expect, the result ends up better than I could have imagined. Nearly every disappointment I encounter ends up opening up a possibility I would never have had the courage to consider.
Now, instead of panicking, I am working to train myself to recognize these blessings when they show up at my door.
“Oh, it’s you.” I want to say to them when they show up, wearing yet another unexpected, slightly preposterous costume.
“I’d recognize you anywhere.”