What keeps you up at night? The clutch on your Honda? Worries about relationships? The Brewers’ chances of making the playoffs? For Lake Effect essayist Linda Benjamin, it’s about her expectations from life.
Many of us--some older, some younger--feel we are NOT living the lives we expected. This feeling happened for me recently, when I realized that my parents were now gone, my children had grown, and I didn’t have a partner.
In my youth, I imagined my life at this point, to be a balance of stability and adventure. Surrounded by family and friends, I’d be boarding a plane with a safari hat and a mate who had loved me forever. But this is not quite the life I have.
Some days, I say: “What do I do with the life I have? I would have known what to do with the life I expected.” It hadn’t occurred to me that the people I loved might die or move away, become ill, change or leave. Or that the world I lived in might not provide for me.
I believed my father’s prediction to me and my then husband: “Your ship will come in.”
And, ultimately he was right, our ship did come in. But neither my father nor I would have known that this ship might be leaving the dock without me.
I mean, if you don’t have the life you planned for, what do you do with the life you are in? You have to do something. In fact not doing something is also doing something---passively.
So, perhaps my old age will not be spent dancing the tango on a sun-kissed beach with family always available to celebrate occasions and help me when I needed help.
When I was younger, I noticed, especially the women in my family, grow older and I wondered how I might grow older with gusto. I suppose I imagined myself growing older like today’s Dame Judith Dench, or Helen Mirren; Olympia Dukakis, or Tina Turner.
Of course I did not factor in that I was not an international celebrity, wealthy and famous.
As Shimona Tzukernik, Kabbalah teacher extraordinaire, once suggested: “Maybe plan B is the real plan A.”
Would I have outgrown some of my fears and realized my potential had I not driven cross country alone in my sixties? Would I have been doing what I think of as Important Work, as a psychotherapist, helping others, or writing my thoughts and having them listened to, here, by you?
I may have to figure things out on my own, but using my brain helps me to keep it in good shape.
As a girl, often surrounded by loving family and good friends, I expected this time of my life would be the same as it always was, only now the players would be older. And I was, at sixty-something, horrified, to find my life different than the one I had planned or expected.
But, over time, I realized that I’m living a life I find meaningful. I receive more than I give and feel truly connected to others.
The psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, theorized that life’s mature years, could be either Generativity or Stagnation, a life of bitter self-absorption or one of wisdom and mentoring future generations. Here, my imagined life gives way to the Life-that-I-am-living.
Yes, there are losses, but there are also deep joys, satisfactions, rewards.
A story: A man finds himself in the Afterlife accompanied by an Angel.
Here, the man sees a huge table with a gigantic pot of delicious smelling soup, and people holding spoons all around it. But their arms won’t bend, so they can’t feed themselves.
The man asks, “Is this Heaven?”
“No,“ says the Angel. “This is Hell.”
The Angel say, “Now, we’ll go to Heaven.”
Then, the man finds himself in another room that looks like the last. But, as he looks closely, he sees that here people are feeding one another.
Now that’s Plan B as the Real Plan A!
Linda Benjamin is a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Milwaukee.