middle – adjective | mid·dle | \ˈmi-dəl\
: equally distant from the ends or sides : halfway between two points
: in a state or place between two things or people
I hit the snooze a few extra times and even reset the alarm twice before I finally got up yesterday morning. I don’t know what it was except Monday sitting heavy on my chest, and I could barely breathe. I felt tears forming.
When I finally got up, I walked downstairs to the kitchen, popped two pieces of coffee cake (hey, they were small) on a paper plate and closed them inside the microwave. I pressed the “add 30 seconds” button while I stuck a mug under the Keurig machine and turned on the power button.
Coffee, cake, Bible, journal, yellow bistro table on the back patio. Before I sat, I took the risk of leaving the coffee cake unattended while Tilly nosed around, and I pulled a few weeds from the garden. I felt the tears rise again as my hands stained green. Stupid weeds. And suddenly, it was the weeds’ fault that life isn’t perfect.
I remember just about two weeks ago thinking, Life is perfect! I had a battery of health tests that all came back negative. Not only do I continue to live cancer free, but my cholesterol is good and bad in all the right places, my blood sugar levels are low, my heart is healthy and strong. We finalized plans for a California vacation with the boys. I bought a new car. My writing life is productive. Our boys are healthy. My marriage is happy.
Nothing. Everything. Life. Death. A hundred happy moments, and a dozen really difficult ones. We celebrated birthdays and Father’s Day and 4th of July. The boys fight, and my workload feels stressful. We eat delicious food, we mow the lawn, we buy groceries. We forgot birthdays and attended funerals. The dog escaped. The cat killed a bird and left it on the patio headless. We work, we rest, we play. We laugh, we cry. We are outraged by injustice, we forget to say thank you.
What happened? We are past the beginning and far from the end (at least we hope). We are digging into the long, tedious, exhilarating middle.
“The middle of things is less exciting than the beginning and less dramatic than the end. Middles can seem humdrum,” writes Andrew Solomon in the New Yorker’s “The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers.” “Say that your current relationship to writing has been like falling in love: we exalt falling in love as the finest of all possible experiences. But the reason people marry and stay married is that the middle, when it can be made to work, far outclasses the beginning.”
Like the rest of the country, we celebrated July 4th in the middle of last weekend, grilling steaks and watching small explosions fill the sky. Without regard to the actual calendar, I’ve always marked July 4th as the “middle” of summer. If your children happen to go to school in Frankfort, Indiana, like ours, and if your family structure is such that you actually gauge the beginning and ending of summer according to the ending and beginning of the school year, then that calculation is just about right. But as middles go, I’m ready for an ending. Or a beginning. Even though we’ve got vacation to enjoy and a trip to our favorite state park to take and a good amount of ice cream to eat before then. I feel the need for a little exhilaration or devastation or anything other than the horrible blah of the middle.
Interestingly, as I began to think of a word for this week, thoughts circling just as I’ve described above, acedia came to mind, which Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary woefully under-defined as simply “apathy, boredom.” I know enough to know that acedia accounts for much more than that, and an overdue library book buried within my reading pile called Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, beckons a good read-through not only for a definition, but maybe even a way out of this middle-stuck-crying spell I’m in. I picked up the book back when things felt good. Even then, I guess, the signs were there, and the fact that I have neither read the book nor renewed it nor turned it in makes it even clearer.
I would be remiss to leave out the very spiritual component of what I feel, the very spiritual component that is acedia itself. I read my Bible, I pray, I attend church, I give to gospel work in the world. I visit the sick, I sing psalms, I meditate. And still I wrestle with the “noonday devil”—as desert monks characterized the malaize of the middle.
My faith doesn’t make it better. God doesn’t make it better. In fact, maybe it’s partly my faith and mostly God who draw me to this place—this ordinary, middle time where much of life passes—because this is where trust and devotion and love are lived out. For God, for others, even for myself.
In her book, Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, Lauren Winner recounts her friend Julian’s story about her confirmation, a ceremony which marks the middle of a Christian’s life—a time to reaffirm what was already believed and to make a promise about future belief.
“She was twelve, and she was preparing to be confirmed,” Winner writes. “A few days before the confirmation service, she told her father—the pastor of the church—that she wasn’t sure she could go through with it. She didn’t know that she really believed everything she was supposed to believe, and she didn’t know that she should proclaim in front of the church that she was ready to believe it forever.”
And I feel this tension in my soul even now, even after years of believing what I’m supposed to believe. In the middle I wonder … will I believe this forever?
“What you promise when are are confirmed,” said Julian’s father, is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
So, I get out of bed, I eat cake on the patio, and I carry on in the middle as if this story I am wrestling with will never end.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.