Thursday, May 21, 2015

FOOLS WITH NOTHING IN THE MIDDLE

Me and Ben smelling the roses in our middle age
This evening, Ben and I had dinner with our friends Ian and Francesca, who we've known for thirty years.  It's amazing to realize and beautiful to celebrate.  We've lived our lives - we've had our babies, we've had our various US Foreign Service experiences - we've watched our kids grow up.  So here we were now in a DC restaurant, comfortably conversing in the middle of our lives and talking about our past, our present, our future. Yes we're in the middle of life.  And this evening, that felt wonderful.

The Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear - talks about the folly in LACKING a middle.  "I had rather be any kind o' thing than a fool. And yet I would not be thee, nuncle," he says, meaning Lear himself. Lear has divided his kingdom between two daughters. "Thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides," says the Fool, "and left nothing i' th' middle."

Nothing in the middle.  What a horror! I remembered this passage the other morning when I was walking the dogs. I was between breakfast and work and this passage struck a chord and I needed to think about it. There's no celebration of the MIDDLE these days, I said to myself.  And that is the problem with the world today!

I've been thinking about this because I was teaching my college students about Carl Rogers and Rogerian argument - the need to find a common ground. It sounded old fashioned, and almost preposterous. And yet, my students liked the idea - the idea of actually LISTENING to the other side of an argument before jumping in with your rebuttal. What a beautiful world it would be if there was more of that, we decided.

We can see that it's a problem in politics. There's right and there's left, but never the twain shall meet.  It used to be politicians in the middle, who understood the art of compromise, who went across the aisle to say - you know, this might not be precisely how I'd get things done if it was all up to me? But, hey, let's make it work!

It's a problem in the economy.  The middle class is ever shrinking.  We now have the very very rich, and the poor who can't make ends meet.  It's a problem in publishing.  Publishers have their heavy hitters and their low end low brow market - but they've done away with midlist titles.

It's a problem in marriages. People say 'I wish I could do things MY way.'  You can.  But that's called being SINGLE!  In a marriage you have to settle for solutions that aren't always to your liking. In order to get along - you have to...


                                                                       compromise


And while I'm at it, let's hear it for middle children. They are the ones who bridge across the divide - the ones who traditionally make peace.

What if we do away with bridges? What if all we have is one bank  - a gulf - and then another bank.

Is middle wishy washy - or might it be more about forward momentum? I heard Anne Tyler in an interview recently saying her favorite place to be was in the middle of writing a book.

So the middle of life? It's a beautiful place to be - a place from which to go forward mindfully.
 Ben and his friend Tony in the middle of life and friendship

My college boyfriend recently turned sixty. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE!  I sent him a birthday greeting.  "Hard to imagine," he replied, "that it's been over forty years since I was head over heels for you!"

So I inscribed a copy of my novel and sent it to him for his birthday. When we were young, he had also once inscribed a book to me with a verse from AA Milne.

And in that spirit, this is what I wrote:  "Now that we're sixty we're as clever as clever. So I think we'll be sixty now, forever and ever!"

My beautiful friend, Gail, in her prime
Let's  here it for the middle.  Let's celebrate the joy of middle age.  From this perspective you look at the banks on either side, as Ben and I did with our dear friends this evening over dinner.  You remember who you were and you continue with joy to build a bridge towards who you might one day become.

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