When I was a teenager, my dad bought a motorcycle. It was a thick hunk of a bike, with a wide ass and long handlebars. It was definitely one of those bikes built for the veterans of biking, for the kings of the open road. It was meant to me ridden with leather chaps, aviator sunglasses, and an American flag bandanna wrapped around your head. It was a classic.
My dad is not a biker. At least, no one would label him that way. I didn’t really even know this bit of my dad existed until he brought the bike home that day. I came to find out that my dad rode dirt bikes when he was a teenager. Despite the poverty he grew up in he even had his own. He loved the thing, and somewhere beneath his forty-something years that same love of riding and of life lived on.
When I was a teenager, my mom bought a boat. It was a solid little speedboat that would race across the water, tossing the sun and the wind in your hair. We would take it out on the weekends during the summer, packing a lunch and eating out on the water. Our friends loved the boat. We learned to hate the question, “when are you taking the boat out again?” Eventually we got good at sneaking out of the neighborhood unnoticed.
My mom grew up in a boating family. It’s in her blood. She loves being out on the water, either in the driver’s seat or on a set of skis trailing behind. And even though the water washes away the makeup and flattens her hair, there’s something regal about how she looks, sitting in the boat in her bathing suit with a towel about her waist like a skirt. That love of life and of the water that she possessed as a youth lives on.
Looking from a distance, the bike and the boat would definitely be labeled as the manifestation of my parents’ mid-life crises. Sometimes people talk negatively about that kind of thing, but it happens to more people than you think. Not everyone goes for the motorcycle or boat. Some people get facelifts, others quit their jobs, and some people even get new marriages. But there seems to be something about that middle section of life when people make a dramatic change of some sort.
I think about the period between my parents’ youth and the bike/boat era. What happened that stifled those passions deep beneath the surface? My dad went on a mission and to college. My mom got a job. They got married, had me and a few other kids, and started a medical practice. They worked, went to church, threw birthday parties and went to elementary school choir concerts. They did everything that they were supposed to do. Or rather, they did everything they were “supposed” to do.
And then they hit the point where things grew stagnant, where they hungered for the same energy and passion that they felt before. And it wasn’t gone. Oh, no, not by a long shot. They bought the bike and the boat, and they locked into that feeling of life and euphoria. Were these purchases responsible? Not completely. Even teenage me wondered how we were going to afford this. But reconnecting to the passion of life was worth it.
As I go through life I think that we all fall prey to the expectations of the world. The “supposed to’s” that we get pounded by over and over since we are born. In order to please the world and be accepted into the broader community we stifle our passions, mainly because they’re not “realistic”. We sacrifice our childhoods on the altar of responsibility, hoping to earn a salary and that elusive feeling of being an adult. Then we hit our mid-forties, and adulthood sucks so much that we start dressing like we’re teenagers and going clubbing like we’re twenty.
The key, really, is not necessarily to act one way or another. It’s not necessarily to buy motorcycles and boats. The key is to be authentic, to build and structure our lives the way we want them to be. It’s to stop worrying about what might be, stop hiding behind the coffin of stability, and step into the sunlight.
These crises don’t only occur in mid-life; they happen anytime life shifts just a bit, giving us the chance to reinvent. They call to us, inviting us to let go of the convention and the “way we never were” and live. Do the things that make us happy. And they’re simple things. Turn off the tv and read a book that makes you wonder. Get lost in the city and meet someone new. Take a painting class, go to the gym, join a band. Do whatever you must do, but stop waiting for life to happen to you! ‘Cause it won’t. If you don’t make life happen, the only thing that happens is existence. And we’re meant for so much more than that.
The bike and the boat are gone now. I guess in some ways they’re not needed like they were before. I can see, however, how the last years have brought that life back to my parents. They are more relaxed. They have loosened their grip on the supposed-to’s. And I think they’re better for it.
I want you to think about it right now. Tell me, what’s that thing you’ve always wanted to do, but never have? I bet it’s already in your head. It was the first thing to pop up, because it’s always waiting right there. No more dreaming. Take that thought, and make it real. Do something right now to put it into place. Open a word doc and start that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Put on your running shoes and train for that marathon. Go hiking. Call your old friends. Drive around town and sing with the windows down.
Because eventually life ends, and it becomes too late.
I read once that when asked, the elderly respond unanimously that their greatest regrets were things they didn’t do. Sure, they made mistakes, but they survived just fine. Those weren’t regrets. The things they put off to someday, those were the things that were lost, things they would never get back. Life that went unlived. Their advice? Stop being afraid to live.
And never look back.