The Brood: The “Childishness” of the Eighty-somethings (#lifegoals)

by Holly Mohr

Eighty-somethings are some of my new favorite people. Almost every time I meet someone new who is really excited about life, has a deeply wise perspective and a mischievous glint in their eyes, I learn they’re in their eighties.

These eighty-year-olds I know, they write subversive theology, participate in social justice groups, they go out for tea, go out for martinis. They lead meditation circles, throw incredible dinner parties and have conversations for hours.

Sure, there are some great seventy-somethings; I’m sure there are awesome ninety-somethings. But something special seems to be going on with the group born in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They’ve seen Vatican II up close; they participated in the Civil Rights Movement. They were conscious as the nation and the world were changing, and they were part of making the change.

When my husband and I got married (we are not in our eighties—just a mere thirties and forties at this point), we danced to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” When we danced at our reception, we locked eyes at the line, “It gets so hard, working so hard for our survival. I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive.” It’s become a sort of vision statement for me in our marriage, a mantra on some days.

We have had many years with both of us working so hard for survival . . . days of living in small apartments with loud and rambunctious children, days of trying to live on student loans and adjunct “salaries” (stipends, more like), days of finally having full-time jobs and still having to claw for a living wage, days of negotiating struggles with our families of origin, struggles with our children, struggles with one another, struggles with life.

We went into marriage knowing it would be hard. We chose that. We wanted to live intentionally, doing meaningful work, cultivating a living spirituality that tried to balance faith with asking honest questions. We wanted to have children, and to share the load of what it would mean to have children and pursue meaningful work, together.

We planned for struggle, not for its own sake, but because we knew it came with the territory of choosing to live meaningfully, especially if some of those choices went against conventional advice or expectations. And though we knew it was coming, living through constant uncertainty sometimes felt close to impossible (not knowing whether our car would start for the pediatrician appointment, or whether his contract would get renewed, or what we would do if our toddler’s footsteps bothered the neighbor downstairs one more time!). The last few years have brought a bit more normalcy, a bit less uncertainty in our private sphere, even as the world beyond us has begun to spin more madly than ever.

The beautiful thing about learning to live with uncertainty, though, is that when a tiny bit of relief comes, we know how to savor it together. We know how to bow down in gratitude. We have worked to be stable for one another and for our family but have also worked to not take much for granted. It is abundantly clear that literally everything good is a gift.

I’m grateful for not living in complete uncertainty at this particular point of life (while knowing that could change at any time); years of constant uncertainty are unspeakably exhausting.

At the same time, the life we have chosen has kept me on my toes. Yes, it has kept me awake and alive.

Whether reaffirming our shared vision on the days that grind us down, spending focused time together on Saturday nights in our attic, or relaxing into the shared language of watching our favorite shows together after (finally!) putting the kids to bed (Parenthood, Madame Secretary and Home Economics, currently; Arrested Development, Frasier and Seinfeld  in the all-time classic realm), our life together keeps waking me up, prompting me to keep learning more, keep building something beautiful, keep staying curious about what it all means and where we’re all headed.

We’re heading into mid-life, he and I, and sometimes I get nervous. It feels as though it’s culturally normative to basically give up at this point, to let life happen to you more and more. There’s a palpable but unspoken social pressure to stop asking questions, to just survive and step into line. It reminds me a little of Socrates’s interlocuters in the Platonic dialogues who would accuse him of being childish all the time, scoffing at him that doing philosophy, seeking truth, is an immature thing to do. Adults, it is supposed, don’t have time for such “luxuries.” (You’re encouraged to enjoy luxuries in midlife, but only the kind that encourage you to spend more, the kind that make you just a little more soporific every day).

I had a meeting with another eighty-something this morning, about marriage preparation programming, as it happens.

“I still keep waking up every morning excited about life, wondering what new thing I’ll learn today!,” he told me eagerly as we started the meeting. I smiled and settled in, knowing this person would have something to teach me.

I’m going to keep hoping. Yeah, I’m in it for the long game. “Childish” or not, dangerous or not, I want to keep looking to Socrates, who doggedly insisted life does have meaning. I’m going to settle in and listen to those kickass eighty-somethings I know, who seem to understand that at least part of the meaning is about joy.

I’m going to keep staring up into my husband’s eyes for as long as I can. They do, after all, keep me awake and alive.

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