Noted with pleasure: The middle passage

Sculpture: Matteo Pugliese

Why do so many go through so much disruption in their middle years?  Why then?  Why do we consider it to be a crisis?  What is the meaning of such an experience?

The midlife crisis, which I prefer to call the Middle Passage, presents us with an opportunity to reexamine our lives and to ask the sometimes frightening, always liberating question: “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?” 

When we discover that we have been living what constitutes a false self, that we have been enacting a provisional adulthood, driven by unrealistic expectations, then we open the possibility for the second adulthood, our true personhood. 

The Middle Passage is an occasion for redefining and reorienting the personality, a rite of passage between the extended adolescence of first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality.

Those who travel the passage consciously render their lives more meaningful.  Those who do not, remain prisoners of childhood, however successful they may appear in outer life….

Many of us treat life as if it were a novel.  We pass from page to page passively, assuming the author will tell us on the last page what it was all about.  As Hemingway once said, if the hero does not die, the author just did not finish the story.  So, on the last page we die, with or without illumination. 

The invitation of the Middle Passage is to become conscious, accept responsibility for the rest of the pages and risk the largeness of life to which we are summoned.  Wherever the reader may be in his or her life, the summons to us is the same as to Tennyson’s Ulysses:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.*

~ From The middle passage: From misery to meaning in midlife by James Hollis (Toronto, CA: Inner City Books, 1993).

*”Ulysses,” in Louis Untermeyer, ed., A concise treasury of great poems.



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