I believe in the mid-life crisis. I should know. I have had two.
For my fortieth birthday I decided I would teach myself to play the guitar. I always loved music, and had desperately wanted to play an instrument for as long as I could remember. I had just begun to take lessons as an adolescent when, after giving me six or seven lessons, my guitar teacher died suddenly. While I was relatively sure my leaden fingers and tin ear had nothing to do with his demise, there really wasn’t another teacher within walking distance of my home, so my musical adventure went on a twenty-seven year hiatus.
In the winter of my fortieth year, I found myself in the guitar store telling a salesman half my age that I wanted to learn to play. He sent me home with a cheap guitar. My wife smiled and shook her head, sure that this could not be more than a passing whim.
I vowed to learn three chords. I told myself that if I could just play one song that was even remotely recognizable I would be satisfied. And I did learn three chords. Then a fourth and a fifth. Then another and another. After a time, a funny thing happened. I began to lose my inhibition about playing. I willingly participated in guitar pass arounds at parties. My friends who played would indulge me while I butchered a song, passing along encouragement and a few tips.
Eventually I came to realize what a mid-life crisis truly was. It was freedom. Somewhere during my thirties the stubborn self-consciousness of youth had melted away. The desire to do the things I had always wanted to do was no longer encumbered by the fear of failing, and looking bad doing it. Attaining an age where appearances started to matter less was liberating. That liberation led directly to my second mid-life crisis. Surfing.
Having loved the ocean since I was a little boy, learning to surf had been a fantasy I harbored for as long as I could remember. Recently buoyed by my new-found lack of inhibition, or lack of common sense, or most assuredly both, I marched my graying overweight out of shape self into a surf shop. As luck would have it, I picked a surf shop that was run by guys my own age so I was spared the condescending looks I had gotten from the guitar salesman. Soon I was in the Atlantic paddling around on a board that some kid told me could, “float an elephant.” And float an elephant it did.
While my surfing is, like my guitar playing, still a work in process, I still get a smile on my face thinking about the day when a guy my age, who had seen one of my better rides said to me, “You’ve still got it.” Little did he realize that I never really had it. But one day, perhaps in my fifties or sixties, I might just get it.
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