Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fortyness - Life in the Doldrums

A doldrums is a still state, a state of non-movement, a state of non-growth, a state of stagnation. Upon the sea it is a treacherous state to be in. It can be the death of a sailor, leaving the boat stranded in the vast ocean as but a stranded speck upon the unending water. The sailor is dependent upon the wind and currents to move the boat - to take it to its destination. The sails can be raised, the rudder can be moved, but without a wind or current, nothing happens but a stirring of the water and the hanging of vast pieces of fabric. Although it takes skill to maneuver the boat among the water, the sailor, with all the ability in the world can go nowhere if there is no energy or force to propel the boat.

This idea of stagnation, of stillness, of being stuck in a state, knowing that there is a destination to reach but a lacking of energy to get there, can apply to people as well. This, to me, captures a lot of what Fortyness is.

In this era we have been propelled by the forces of life. We have reached goals in careers by hard work and choice that have been a catalyst for much of what we do and how we exist. Educational goals have been or are being met. The hard work and time investment in our higher learning cast us into social and academic circles that helped us to understand who we are in that setting. We may have had marriage of family responsibilities that dictated what and who we needed to be, not only by necessity, but also by choice. Who we are has been defined by what roles have occupied the prior years of our life.

But as this era of fortyness settles in, our identity comes into question. A period of redefining begins. This period often times feels without a driving force. It is in many ways like a doldrums.

As our age increases, we see the time we have to truly understand ourselves seems to decrease. We search for meaning in life, in relationships, in work, and in many of the things that used to serve as the fuel of our identity. At the same time, the roles we have depended upon are changing. The frenzy of parenting in many ways slows. There may not be much left of accomplish at work. We have the degree, now what? The forces that helped to move us along suddenly slow, and then stand still. We look for another destination that we know is out there, the destination of our true identity, but we have no movement toward it. We are stuck pondering. We are in a doldrums of life.

So what do we do?

If the sailor were to not continue to raise the sails, he'd not be able to test the wind. If he didn't eventually move the rudder, how would he know it there were any current? If he were to simply give up, he'd surly be lost at sea, never to reach the destination. So he continues on with the motions of sailing, hoping to find the hint of movement. Eventually, the sails catch the wind, and he is on his way again. We need to be like the sailor. We need to continue on, searching, asking and pondering who we are, and going through the motions of life. Eventually we will find a new fuel in our fortyness that will bring us to our destinations of knowing our identity. It may be just a small breeze that our sails catch or a raging storm, but undoubtedly, we will move from the doldrums and back into the currents of understanding who we are.