I watched Jyothika’s “36 Vaiyathinilae” yesterday. It wasn’t a great movie by any standards and in fact I felt it dragged quite a bit. However, there were somethings in the movie that struck a chord with me. I am sure that most women in their late thirties will find something in it to relate to.
It is a movie about a 36-year-old woman facing a mid-life crisis. It is about the journey she goes on to rediscover herself and come out winning, along with some preachy advice about growing your own organic produce. There were several things in the movie that irritated me from the spoiled brat of a daughter to the statement that “all food grown in Ireland is organic” *eye roll*. But it did do a great job capturing the sense of hopelessness and regret that comes with a mid-life crisis. And for me it hit the nail on the head when it all began with the protagonist turning 36.
I never believed in the concept of a mid-life crisis until I experienced one myself. For me too, it began around my 36th birthday. Maybe “crisis” is too strong a word. It was more like mid-life stress and I noticed that it didn’t just happen to me. I observed that other women I know also went through this mid-life coming-of-age stage in their lives.
I think its because most people never visualize themselves beyond the age 35. When we are young we plan our lives: school, college, graduate school, career, marriage, children. And that’s where it stops. We don’t really make plans beyond that. We go through each of these stages, adapting to each role: student, employee, girlfriend, fiance, wife, mother etc.,. At around age 35, most have us have gone through these stages and suddenly stop and wonder “what next?” By the time we hit mid-to-late thirties, most of us have children who are not as dependent on us anymore as they were when they were infants and toddlers. For some who chose the path not to get married or have kids, they might suddenly realize that they have’t found “the one” or they might start to hear their biological clock ticking. When we don’t know what to do next, we invariably turn to the past and remember lives we planned for ourselves. We realize that life didn’t really go according to plan and we are not where we thought we’d be financially, or career-wise or family-wise or whatever.
Regret is central theme at this time. No one plans for regret. Everyone wants to live their lives without regret. But I think regret is as inevitable as death. Humans will always wonder what would have happened if they they had chosen a different path when they were at crossroads in their youth. The tendency to think that the grass is greener on the other side is very real. Stay-at-home moms wonder if they chose right, as do working moms. Sometimes I can visualize my past as a tree branching off into different directions at important points in my life and wonder what it would have looked like if the branches had grown in other directions.
What if I had never gone to Australia? What if I had gone to graduate school in India? What if I had never set foot in the US? What if I had not transferred from Mississippi State University to Ohio State University? What if I had ended up having an arranged marriage? These are questions I asked myself. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had gone to art school instead? or journalism? or psychology? As I worked through these what ifs, I couldn’t help having a few regrets here and there. Its part of being human.
The other thing that hits me in my late thirties is the very real fear that my parents are getting old. I now have to condition myself to become their guardians and care for them like they cared for me. This a role that I didn’t really anticipate until it hits me in the face. It is a difficult role to grow into. I now worry about my parents like I do about my children. I realize now that Death is a reality, not just as some far-off thing that is doesn’t concern me.
One of the big things that I went through in my mid-life crisis was wondering if I had failed to pass on my culture to my children. I am not sure how universal this turmoil is. I know that my interracial marriage and US residency contributed to these feelings. I wanted to take my children to my childhood haunts, have them experience some of the same things I experienced and loved as a child. I wanted them to know more about Indian culture, my language, my heritage and traditions, my religion and beliefs.
A lot of it is just coming to terms with aging. I realized that no one ever calls me “akka” anymore, only “auntie”. Its hard enough when the movie heroines were younger than me but if feels so unfair that even the heroes are younger than me now! My body feels like it is falling apart and I have become aware of achy joints and lower energy. Late nights are not interesting anymore, for I just want to be in bed early enough so I can get a good night’s sleep. All the things my parents told me make sense now. My children are starting to say the same things I told my parents.
Like all the other turning points, the mid-life crisis itself can go any of several ways. I have seen it destroy marriages, plunge people into despair and depression. For me though, it lead to a lot of introspection. I found an anchor in my faith, like many people do. I re-evaluated my beliefs, my biases and my goals. I learned to stop fighting life and to go with the flow instead. I sorted out what was really important to me in my life. Most of all, I learned to forgive myself.
I finally reached a state of mid-life calm. I believe that everything in life happens for a purpose, or at least that you can find a purpose for everything that happens. The roads I took brought me to where I am. And where I am is a very blessed state. Some decisions still nag me… If I had not transferred to Ohio State University, I would have maybe earned my PhD. But then, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I am glad I took that transfer, and even though I took it for all the wrong reasons, something wonderful came out of it. What I regret is the reasons for which I made that decision, not the decision itself. It has made me realize good can come out of wrong. Maybe when it comes right down to it, its all just about seeing what you want to see; what you choose to see.
Now that I am almost ready to walk up the 40s, I feel relaxed. I feel wiser. I have gone through some tough times and have come out just fine. I am blessed and I am grateful. I have my faith to fall back on. I have my family to help me out. I know that calm doesn’t last forever, but this time I know where I can turn to when I need a calm moment. I also know when I need to turn to calm. I know there is still a lot of life to live, a lot of challenges that will come. There will be ups and and there will be downs, but a lot less regrets. For this time, I choose not to regret.