In real life lipstick comes off when we kiss our lover. In real life our noses run and our mascara meanders darkly down our flaming cheeks. In real life the people we love with all our hearts die too soon.
In real life we reach cyclical turning points, each one of us on our very personal journey, which will lead us inevitably across the threshold into the shadowy unknown. So often we stray from the path, lose sight of our Life Purpose. Dante Alighieri wrote “when I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” We stand at the threshold, not sure of who we are or who we are about to become. For many of us threshold times can be disorientating, painful, even terrifying. To our ancestors, thresholds were holy places. The Latin word for threshold is limen. It was a sacred space guarded by the gods and goddess: Janus, Hermes and Hecate. As we traverse the space in-between we may have lost our faith in the primal gods or goddesses. We have only our Faith and the tenacity of our spirit as we follow the elusive lantern light of our becoming, to meet the shadowy dark night of the soul. We may not know that they are still there to guard us as we take the perilous journey across liminal spaces, and that the supernatural elementals, the faery folk surround us as we wander alone through the dark woods.
In medias res, in the middle of things, is a fecund state of birthing. A profoundly sacred crossing where we are required, at every age juncture, to ask ourselves “Who is the I that stands at this point of no return?”
There are no right ways or wrong ways of crossing a threshold. We may eagerly seize new opportunities to pioneer a new path, to live our “unlived lives”. We may garner those scattered or buried parts of ourselves and become more conscious, more whole, more of Who we truly are. Or we may crouch in rigid status quo, or regress to old ways of being.
Transition times are holy times. Marriage, divorce, the birthing of our babies, the end of a career, the beginning of a new one. The inevitable ageing of our bodies. The ultimate transformation of our dying. Transition times are accompanied by conflicting emotions. Joy, trepidation. Fear and unspeakable sorrow as we leave the old behind and step into the new. The transition from youth to old age is a threshold we must all traverse. There is no elixir for eternal youth. Each one of us will exhale for the very last time.
The Pluto in Leo generation in the Western world (those born between August 1938 and October 1956) have capitalised on transition times associated with ageing in a plethora of therapies, books, blogs and workshops. Pluto in Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn generations will deal with the process of age and death very differently, I suspect.
Baby Boomers living the affluent west mostly do live longer than our grandparents did. Midlife has become a moveable smorgasbord, celebrated in cinema and song and glamorised in specialist magazines aimed at the over 40s. In a feature entitled Fifty Shades of 50, journalist Lisa Depaulo writes with breathless ebullience about a brand-new breed of 50-plus women – stronger, smarter, sexier than ever, dubbed the new Alpha Goddess who has a penchant for fast cars and luxury holidays, travelling solo and saying “it’s my turn”. The article bubbles on cheerfully, “almost every woman I know over 50 seems to be doing things that none of us were expecting to be doing at our age. We’re making choices, in both little and big ways, just for ourselves.”
Demographics and photo-shopped aspirational women’s magazines aside, shrewd Pallas Athenas were rare – there just was no room for a brand- new breed of Alpha Goddesses on Mount Olympus. Despite the sacrifices of The Suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th century and the courage of the Feminists of the ’60s, between the shadows of our politically correct social constructs there exists today the very same polarisation in gender and power that has existed for eons. In affluent societies, many women in midlife and in their elder years live in straightened circumstances after divorce or the death of their spouses. Women still do not, in the main, earn as much as their male counterparts. Women still bear, birth, and nurture the children.
Each one of us will have thresholds to cross. Yet not all of us will have the luxury of time or sufficient financial security to say “it’s my turn” as we support our children through their college years, nurse our dying parents, care for once-virile partners, now stricken with depression or facing terminal illness. We find we don’t have the physical strength, the financial clout, the confidence or even the inclination to be an Ageing Alpha Goddess. We find we have never wanted to travel solo to Peru, buy a sports car or learn to play the piano. In real life, we accept that we have lived more years in the past than we have allotted to us in our future. In real life, we do not all die peacefully in our sleep.
So, in real life, we distil the essence, the magic from the simple things in life – a hug from the one we love. Watching a bumble bee in the languid embrace of a still summer afternoon. The intoxicating scent of white jasmine.
In real life, it is time that becomes the most precious commodity. Many men and women enter the second and third acts of their lives with less attachment to fast cars or yet another pair of shoes, less clinging on to the bricks and the mundane mortar of life. More reverence for the here and now.
“Opposites throw light upon each other”, said the philosopher Schopenhauer. Our lives are animated by the dappled shades of light and darkness, chaos and meaning, the cacophony of sound and long stretches of silence… And in the silence we begin to notice the brilliance of the rainbow as it arcs over the rain-washed sky. And how quite suddenly, the swallows have returned for the summer.
In our life’s transitions we may find our purpose, our passion. In our ageing and in our dying we may discover the meaning of Love, and in the shadows of our inevitable parting, our redemption.
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver.
Art by Casey Baugh. Between The Shadows – Loreena McKennitt