Adventures on the grail quest

Adventures on the grail quest

‘The Grail Quest takes place in the Wasteland. You find the treasure of yourself and the power in those darkest, most harrowing moments,’ Elizabeth Gilbert, author

Grief comes for us is many guises. Lost people, lost jobs, lost loves, lost opportunities…

By the time we’ve got to our midlives, it would be an unusual human who hadn’t experienced grief.

Then there’s the experiences of grief that are not strictly ours, but push us into examining our own world. The friend grieving a miscarriage when we are childless, a colleague devastated by a parent’s loss when we’ve been grieving the parent we’ve never known most of our lives… it is human nature to consider ourselves in others’ experiences. It may be uncomfortable, but it is nothing to feel guilty about.

Sometimes we are in the front circle of grief, sometimes the gods. 

And so it is that I have recently found myself in a Facebook group for a journalist I met from time to time in a former job where my duties including running the organisation’s press office. We were Facebook friends and sometimes sparring partners – Jonathan was a tenacious news man who seldom took the stock ‘A spokesperson said…’ statement as an answer.  When I ran into him at a press event, bounding towards me – eyes shining, huge grin – my first thought was usually an expletive. Jonathan was too bloody bright. Admirable and annoying in equal measure; but that’s the memorable moments of life, isn’t it, oxymoron in action.

Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. He passed last Thursday.

In his last weeks, this Facebook group has been an extraordinary experience. A way for those of us who know him, and there seem to be hundreds of us, to pass on messages. A way for him to hear those messages, delivered by friends and family visiting him in hospital.

One of his friends who saw him in his final days here, reported back to us that Jonathan wanted us to know that, pretty much, all that mattered was love. That he felt ours and that we had his.

So while I usually keep my blogposts pretty factual, it seems the least I can do to honour his memory is pass on this simple but powerful message.

Certainly Jonathan has left a very empty space in the lives of those who knew him.

Love is the point. And to love we must lose. And it will feel like a Wasteland. But keep going because you’ll find strength you didn’t know you had, resources you can call on again and again, more power than you ever imagined might be available to you.

The author Elizabeth Gilbert lost the love of her life last year. Of Rayya’s passing, she recently said that she thought people who are very vivid in life are very vivid in death. Certainly Jonathan’s absence seems very loud just now. Like his sneezing. His journey here may have closed, but his grail quest was lived vividly.

Whether what you grieve was light or bright in the world, keep going.

Your grail is waiting for you. Your journey continues.

Midlife magnificence: live, love, enjoy your superpower!

Midlife magnificence: live, love, enjoy your superpower!

Midlife: when the Universe grabs you by the shoulders and says “I’m not f*cking around; use the gifts you were given,” Brene Brown.

There’s a lot of talk about the Midlife Crisis.

Apparently it’s not just men who freak out and channel their energies into emblems of virility – motorbikes, sports cars, dressing like teenagers…

Women are also supposed to be wandering around, bewailing their lost youth, weeping into their prosecco and telling tales of when we were called ‘miss’ and not ‘madam’, builders wolf-whistled from lofty scaffold and all eyes turned as we sallied into the wine bar.

And of course, that suits our consumerist culture perfectly, doesn’t it. Because that then makes us prime subscribers to the myriad of ‘solutions’ it has to dazzle us. From fillers and botox to now microblading for our thinning eyebrows. Excess body hair isn’t just plucked or shaved now, it’s waxed or blasted with lasers. Then there’s the clothing that constrains us and restricts us, shoes that pinch us and stifle our steps, handbags we brandish as shields of success, that cost us close to a month’s average salary.

It seems to me that the more women earn, the more the over-culture finds ways to spend our money, and discover ever cynical ways to redirect our salary into a fool’s errand, chasing eternal youth.

And as long as we’re focused on what other people think of us, it’s very easy to sell us what we don’t need, and even easier to keep hidden from us what we deserve. What I believe is our birthright. Midlife magnificence.

And I don’t mean magnificently mimicking 20 year olds. Who are beautiful and lovely. But not us. I mean exploring the extraordinary gifts we have now.

Perspective. Wisdom. Power.

These are the our skills, or talents, our superpowers, but the over culture wants to keep us focused away from these, otherwise we won’t keep falling for the emperor’s new clothes it’s been selling us for the past 20 years.

Now is the time to get past your fear. Get past your anxiety. Get past your phobias. Because now is IT!

There’s something very sobering about passing 50, I can tell you from experience. You get an ever-increasing mantra popping past your thoughts ‘Now is the time… Now is the time…’

The Midlife Crisis appeared in the Sixties. But for men only. Presumably because they had all the money and we had yet to become an economic force to be preyed upon with thrusty, shiny toys. But according to the Guardian the midlife crisis is now well embedded in popular culture, for women. Television is now reflecting us as up our elbows in elicit sex, obviously looking rakish but ravishing in our power skirt suits, with pilates-toned midriffs, spa-day glow and tousled full locks flowing.

And yet research shows the midlife malaise is perfectly natural. So natural, apparently that this research suggests even primates follow the same path.

According to Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick, Andrew Oswald,  our mental wellbeing improves from our mid to late Forties, onwards. Yes, the opportunity to play opposite George Clooney is probably narrowing, maybe your Nobel prize won’t be in the post, but when you see past these dreams, what’s left? Look, orangutans have never heard of George Clooney and I’m guessing peace prizes for literature (just me there, I know) aren’t on their bucket list either, but if they’re going through the same thing then maybe the solution isn’t another tattoo.

Maybe it’s time to look at what midlife has actually given us.

Yes, a bit if a kick in the pants, but also a lot of freedom.

Freedom from running after kids all day. Freedom from menstruating, freedom from all that expectation you put on yourself to win that Nobel prize. Yes, your hair may thin, your body shape may shift again, your skin may not be as elastic as it once was, but because you are evolving into a wiser, stronger, more considered creature that has all that collected wisdom. We don’t need to shake our tail feathers at the world, we are the bloody peacock!

Now you can get on with being who you want to be. Carving out as an extraordinary or ordinary life as you wish, being you. Or finding you, if you wake up to discovering who you are has been buried half alive in other people’s ironing for 30 years.

Professor Oswald claims that in Britain people are at their happiest once they hit their mid-Seventies. So get excited – it’s all going to get a lot better. If we get a move on now, we’ll be ecstatic by the time we draw our pensions!