Middle age is hard. We are in the world of the young, now more than ever and it is easy to keep pretending we are all still young (I am sure I am not more than seven years old) until we look in the mirror and see the coarsening skin or our the bulging of our middles. Even if we avoid mirrors we can’t help but notice that our hands now look like our mothers hands and police men look like children. The physical aspects of middle age are bad enough-and we haven’t even mentioned the greying, thinning hair, the fading eyesight, the aching joints, the migraines, the hot sweats, the erratic memory and on and on and on-but then comes the letting go of dreams no longer possible and the realisation of our mortality that introduces depression to the previously happy and the deepening of depression for the more melancholy among us.
The young laugh at us and it is no real consolation to know they will be in our shoes one day for by then we will be out of our shoes and in our graves and unable to enjoy it. Besides, even if we could laugh at the thought of the youngs inevitable descent into decrepitude it would make our jowls wobble and depress us all over again. In the midst of this decline many of us feel isolated and without support of friends who have either burrowed into their families or whom we have left behind as we did the burrowing. We are left groping our way across new territory lit only by the occasional rat-a-tat-tat of a text or call from a friend like a burst of verbal gunfire on a battlefield.
The battlefield metaphor was nailed by a friend of mine after I had fired out another frantic message, like a grenade lobbed out of a foxhole, seeking advice on yet another situation in which I could no longer count completely on my own judgement, besieged as I am by hormonal tides and mood swings. This friend, Julie, told me then that every time we messaged each other she always got the impression we were hunkered in foxholes as shells exploded all around us and our hurried misspelled texts were like frantic SOSs from the terrified and confused stragglers of an increasingly wretched regiment. The metaphor is quite apt. My sister-in-law calls the decade between 40 and 50 ‘Snipers Alley’ in relation to cancer but we also battle against weight gain, we struggle to maintain health, to remember peoples names, to sleep, to stay awake. Whatever fight we put up it always seems like a losing battle as we are all sliding down the same muddy slope into the same dark trench. It is an image that makes me laugh and lifts my heart the way a Christmas ceasefire or news from home might cheer a war weary soldier. It’s not only a metaphor for the middle-aged either, it is for any of us who feel as if life has us under siege.
I can picture us now, all of us huddled in our individual foxholes spattered in mud and gore, our faces gaunt or maybe puffy or both, our hair frizzy under dented helmets, our eyes dark circled, being shelled by grief, loss, illness, feelings of failure and emptiness. But sometimes there is a break in the onslaught, the shelling halts and, after a bit, we might crawl painfully to the lip of our dug outs to whisper into the wasteland….
….just to hear the strangled affirmation that eventually comes back.
“Yeh. Still ‘ere anyway. Some laugh this eh?”