A Mid Life Crisis
I have been approaching midlife for several years now; so naturally, it only follows that I have been approaching midlife crisis as well. Last week, midlife crisis and I collided head-on.
I don’t know whether it’s worse to approach midlife crisis as a single male with no dependents (as am I) or as a married father with three young daughters (as is Tom, my former college roommate). Tom loves his family with all his heart. But he tells me that watching all three daughters reaching puberty at the same time is like watching a tremendous left-hook coming at you in slow motion – with absolutely nothing you can do about it. (Wait till they reach college-age, Tom!) Nonetheless, my experience last week transcends all that.
I was visiting the campus of my alma mater, the American University (AU), in Washington, D.C. I hadn’t been there in several years, and I must admit, I was easily lost amid the ivory towers and massive parking lots. So while I was at the campus store to buy some T-shirts, I asked the cashier to where they had moved the college of business. I wanted to drop off a note to my old Business Law professor, Mr. Brenner. I wasn’t a business or law major, but I took Business Law anyway. I forgot why. Anyway, the only thing that I remember about Business Law is that Sonny Jurgenson is the best quarterback in the history of the Washington Redskins. (We talked a lot about football during Business Law.)
Actually, all these years later, I do remember a lot about business law; Definition of fraud: “Intentional misrepresentation of a material fact, leading a person to suffer as a result.” And the legal components of a contract…. (too much detail, huh?)
Anyway, Mr. Brenner was terrific!
The student behind me in line offered to show me where the college was now located. So out the door we went: me and Chris, my new campus escort. While walking across campus, I told her that I had been a student at AU many years ago. She asked when, and, being somewhat self-conscious about how long ago it actually was, I told her that I had been a freshman at AU “Oh, back in the fall of ’32 or ’33 – I’m not sure – it was the year of the drought.”
She nodded her head, understandingly. She believed me! Ouch – one heavy blow to the heart.
No, I told her, it was the tail end of the Vietnam War. Her eyes lit up; she said, “Oh yeah? Tell me about it!” Now, I love my old college stories, so I eagerly relived for her the days of the riots and demonstrations. I attended some, but I never organized any. I never smoked pot, nor did I ever inhale. (Hey, I’m trying to maintain my political viability here.) I told her about the demonstrations down at DuPont Circle and right up the street at the edge of campus. “Pigs off campus! Pigs off campus!” we yelled – as if we actually had any control over what the police would do. I worked for WAMU, the student-run, campus radio station. We issued all our staff members tear gas masks so that we could continue to report the news no matter how bad it got. We looked real strange walking across the campus with our books in one hand and our tear gas mask in the other. Come to think of it, I remember the tear gas masks, but I don’t remember the books.
As I looked across at her, she was clinging to my every word! I was on a roll, and nothing could stop me now. I told her about the all-night vigils at the Washington monument, and the endless petition drives before, during, and after each class. It was exhilarating!
All of the sudden, I looked at her eyes, lost in fascination and bewilderment, and I realized that I wasn’t telling her “what I did for summer vacation”; I wasn’t describing some ordinary personal episode of my life. I was telling her about… history. She exclaimed, “Oh wow! I had heard about some of that, but I was only three years old at the time.”
Ouch – one more painful blow.
This polite, mature, seemingly adult contemporary, every bit as tall as I was, was telling me that she was still in diapers while I was attending college. Can this be true? Is anyone walking around a college campus really that young? Grinding salt into the wound, she said, “I think my parents were around then, but I guess they’re not old enough to remember much about it.”
Ouch – that was the final blow.
“Gee, this has been great fun, Chris, but come to think of it, Mr. Brenner is probably dead and buried by now. I think I’ll just head on back to the nursing home where I belong.”
When I got back home, I looked in the mirror and noticed a whole patch of gray hair that I swear hadn’t been there that morning. I decided that I’d finally reached the stage in my life when it was futile to try to pluck them out one by one anymore.
Midlife crisis had overtaken me.