It was twelfth-grade literature class when I first realized what a gift the element of surprise is.
We were reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and discussing the symbolism of the pear tree. Now, for some, the pear tree in the book represents Janie's sexuality, but there was also another interpretation--the flowers on the tree represented her dreams, her opportunities, her possibilities. Because youth was on her side, Janie's pear tree was blossoming with so many flowers to be picked. Really, to me at least, it was a symbol of how when you are young, there are so many possibilities flowering. Life is just waiting for you to pluck it, for you to decide which paths you will go down and what surprises you will find along the way. Life in your late teens, even if you don't realize it at the time, feels hopeful in a way it never will again.
I was thinking about this pear tree the other day in the shower and came to a deeply sad conclusion: at 33, I couldn't help but feel like my pear tree is now a crumpled heap of sticks, broken into tiny twigs. In short, I realized with sadness that although at one point, my tree had many flowers on it like Janie's, mine now was plucked and barren (the dream symbol...not the sexuality one. That's a different post altogether).
I'm settled into a life now that I know I am blessed to have, yet I also know lacks a lot of the vivacity that my earlier years of adulthood did. I've settled into a routine where many of the days look the same, where the element of surprise is as unexpected as a freak snowstorm in spring. I've figured out the laundry schedule and my nighttime routine. I've settled into a career, a mortgage, a life of predictability. I've settled into a life where I no longer can see all of the forks in the path, where it feels like I'm endlessly plodding down the exact same one. It's not a bad path--it's just lacking possibility. Choices. Chances.
That lack of choice, of chance, of possibility is perhaps why I found myself staring at the shower wall as the water poured over me and I considered an old metaphor from a book I read long ago.
Before we go any farther, I know I am privileged to say that. I realize boredom is a blessing to many and sought after by those living difficult lives I cannot even imagine. I know I am lucky to be living the life I am. Still, as I let the suds rain down over my body and stared at the blank shower wall, I couldn't help but wonder what my younger self would think of this somewhat passionless existence.
Because that's the thing I think no one tells you about adulthood--that at some point, the magic sort of fades. That at some point, you trade magic for predictability and surprise for security. That you will spend so many years chasing after the elusive "right" path, trying to make choices that will set you up for success that society wants you to find. You will pluck flower after flower off your pear tree, not realizing that someday, all the flowers will be gone and you'll be left with a somewhat depressing, mundane set of branches in their place.
No one prepares you for the day that you realize the element of surprise regarding who you will become will be gone, and in its wake, you'll just be left with this shell of a person who goes through the motions sometimes.
For a while, I thought perhaps I was alone in this feeling. I thought perhaps I was just in a funk where the passion, the magic had died. Where I felt like I was just sort of surviving instead of excited to see what was next. But I've had many conversations with other women especially. I've seen the dulled sparkle in the eyes of those around me. I've seen the translucent moroseness that settles in once someone comes to the conclusion that so many of us eventually come to: This is it. This is what I am, who I will be.
I know that age is just a number. I know that it's never too late to change who we are, to reinvigorate that joy in our hearts and that passion. I know we can find ways to supercharge that spark again. Still, I can't help but let the realist speak up here that the older we get, that the more set in our routines we become, the harder it is to see those flowers again.
It is difficult to imagine a life where you again have choice and chance, where you're fighting to find that dream you once had. I think it's why if you talk to women in their thirties and forties, so many of them have this hidden little dream of waking up and being someone else--or waking up and having a different life altogether.
It's not that there's something broken or wrong with women who feel this. I think it's just no one prepared us for the fact that even if you pick the "right" path, there's a spark that's lost when you settle into a choice. When you let the other flowers fall away and are left with just one, suddenly, there is an emptiness that settles in. A dullness. A "something is missing" kind of feeling.
This is not an article to tell you how to find the spark again. This is not an article to tell you that your best days are over, that your flowers are all dead on your pear tree. This is simply an article to say this--adulthood isn't all the wonderful things we perhaps thought it would be. Adulthood is much harder, much duller, much more complex than they ever told us. And for many of us, women especially, it can be a bitter pill to swallow that the tree we once admired in front of us is slowly withering.
I don't have the answers. I don't have the reasoning. But I do have this--the promise that you are not alone if you are struggling with what this whole thing means and with the reality that hanging onto the wonder, the surprise, the possibility isn't as easy as it once seemed.
So no matter where you are in the pear tree metaphor, I hope you know that you are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with you. Call it faded magic or a mid-life crisis or whatever other fancy term you want, but just know that it's okay to wake up and realize adulthood isn't everything you ever wanted. Know that it's okay to feel a little lost, even if you have the path all figured out and set.
There is no rule book to this thing, no book on pear trees that can give us all the answers. I suppose that is part of the wonder that will always be left--the question of whether or not we're doing this thing right at all.
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