I’m very fond of the concept of ‘social security’, regardless of whether or not any social insurance program (either for retirement or medical necessities) could provide ‘security’. At some point in our personal evolution, I hope that we’d reach the point where we’d realize the truth about ‘security’; we’d save ourselves a lot of trouble and disappointment if we’d only come to the realization that security remains a wonderful childhood fantasy along with the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and Santa Claus (sorry for the spoiler, kids).
Although I know that we gain a tremendous amount of comfort from believing in these things, serious problems arise when (as inevitably happens), we’re confronted with the stark reality of the unforeseen. Chaos theory reigns! Murphy has the upper hand! “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” Or, if you’d rather, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” In the mirages of childhood (that continue in an unbroken chain through adulthood), catastrophe happens only rarely and, on those rare occasions when it does, it only happens to other people. Work hard, pay attention to your spouse and kids, eat right, exercise and get plenty of rest, and you’ll be OK, no matter what.
Then, along comes midlife, and the curtain is drawn back to reveal glimpses of a reality that extends beyond every ‘risk assessment.’ I’m particularly fond of the scene in the movie Jurassic Park where the paleontologist is explaining to a mouthy kid what it was like to be hunted by velociraptors: while you’re preparing to protect yourself from the one in front of you, the two in the bushes behind you that you never see are the ones that tear you to pieces. As the graceless doctor who was caring for my father in his final illness said to us, “Well, you have to die from something.” No matter how careful you are; no matter how many precautions you’ve taken; no matter how big and elaborate your risk assessments may be; you’ll eventually discover, “You have to die from something.”
It’s the inevitability of insecurity that puts the jolt in ‘midlife crisis’, isn’t it? Our midlife nightmares arise out of an ever-deepening appreciation for the fact that some eventualities are, in the end, inevitable. Gertrude Stein once said, “There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.”
After many years, I just rediscovered my all-time favorite Peanuts comic strip by the author and Lutheran theologian, Charles Shultz. Lucy says to Charlie Brown (no relation), “Charlie Brown, I’ll hold the football, and you come running up and kick it.” Charlie Brown laments loudly, “How long, O Lord?” But, Lucy continues, “You’re quoting from the sixth chapter of Isaiah, aren’t you Charlie Brown? ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant and houses without men and the land is utterly desolate . . .’ Actually, there’s a note of protest in the question as asked by Isaiah, for we might say he was unwilling to accept the finality of the Lord’s judgment.” Charlie Brown kicks, Lucy pulls the football away at the last moment, and Good Ol’ Charlie Brown lands on his back with an agonizing, “AUGHHH! WUMP!” Standing over him, looking down, Lucy concludes her sermon: “How long? All your life, Charlie Brown . . . All your life.”
If security is only an illusion, then what’s the point? The answer that eluded Gertrude Stein and all those who, like Isaiah, resist “the finality of the Lord’s judgment” rests in a very simple (non-intoxicating) attitude adjustment. The answer lies simply in acceptance – neither grudging nor simpering – just acceptance. Unfortunately, life on the surface can’t sustain pure acceptance. Reality wrenches the pretense of acceptance from your superficial lip service. True acceptance goes very deep. In fact, unless it touches your core, it has no capacity for endurance or forbearance. Acceptance only comes when you recognize that your insecurities devolve from the challenges posed by a greater plan: one that you’re only a small part of. Only if we can surrender to a Power greater than ourselves can we ever learn to ask that Power, “What is the lesson in this for me?” Only once we are able to ask that question can we know acceptance; and only when we know acceptance can we ever know maturity . . . or peace of mind.
Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown
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