As I sit in my 25th floor perch, the light rain is accumulating at the bottom of the glass window screen on my balcony like glistening diamonds. The city is enveloped in a blanket of soft, gossamer clouds and the light rain dampens the street and traffic sounds that so often float up to me reminding me of the active pulse of my city; it’s a bit of a sleepy morning here in my city, in south east China. These sorts of mornings often have me caught up in thought, sometimes reminiscing and other times problem solving whatever the latest challenge or mild irritation might have my attention at the moment. Today I am thinking of the life between.
This thought has me thinking of what that means to me in my life. My friend in her early 60’s just married her high school sweetheart; yeah. I was thinking what I know of her and her life in between their high school romance and their marriage now. It got me to thinking we all have lived a life between. Truly, goes without saying that a life lived between our 20’s and 40’s is full, mine was indeed. And then my life between my 40’s and late 50’s has been equally full. I am beginning to imagine the life between my 60’s and God knows when…
This life between is what gives us our colour. A silly artist’s phrase and analogy perhaps, but still apt. This colour from our life between are the many badges we’ve earned as time has gone by that are both hidden and displayed. This colour manifests itself in our laugh lines, our crow’s feet, the dirty-dishwater blond hair of mine turning to the loveliest white. This colour may be the scars on our hearts and our bodies from broken relationships and health concerns, the loss of loved ones, or from addiction or other pains. Equally this colour also comes from the joy we’ve experienced also in love, and maybe your fine lines are from your many days under the sun sipping cerveza or fruity drinks sporting paper umbrellas while reading good books, or from hiking those many backwoods trails, or climbing that mountain in the Himalayas. This colour comes from the many roles we’ve played in our life between, from daughter, wife, mother, fund-raiser at our kid’s schools, to best-friend and all that encompasses. This colour from our life between is what makes us who and what we are, it makes us interesting, it’s cool.
My 20’s to 40’s between, was full of focus on family and marriage and child rearing and Lord knows I did my best at all of those things. All of the living and in my case, it was a long marriage with the common ups and downs, children, moves for careers, and if I’m honest, lots of plain old fun, too! I attended university as a married woman. I travelled and saw a bit of the world. I bought and decorated homes where a good bit of living and growing happened, too. Several dreams came true in this life between, the biggest was becoming a mom. I learned so much in all those experiences, and often I recall those lessons and experiences even today, and I am a damn fine Trivial Pursuit player for all of it! I learned a whole lot about loving and loyalty and commitment. I learned how to muster through difficult changes and to rise up and welcome another new day. I learned a lot about what I liked and didn’t like, too during these times, and in all aspects of my life. I suppose these things are most common for everyone during these life between stages – I’m really no different from any of you. I also learned towards the end of that between time, to begin to trust my intuition and to summon the bravery to make my own choices and that took me to the next between…
The life I experienced between my 40’s and late 50’s, has taught me a great deal about choice. In that earlier between stage, my ego thought I knew so much more than I did, but God help you if you tried to tell me so! I thought I understood about choice and consequence and I did my best in those times, and as we all say looking back, we have more clarity, that 20-20 vision on what we may have done better or different. This current between time is teaching me that that backward vision, or glance, is not important… it really is the current here and now, and that it is a choice to be present. I also learned so much more about loving; the how and to love others and myself. I’ve learned that taking care of myself, possibly saying no, and even possibly doing what I want and need instead of what might be someone else’s choice, is ok and most often good and the best choice – for me. I’ve learned about the many ways of loving and expressing and showing love. I’ve enjoyed a good lover or two or three (oh I’ll save all that for the tell-all book I’m penning), and these experiences have taught me more of the same, that what works for me is good and best, it’s my choice. It’s a different experience in this area of my life as a woman, a western expat in China, of a certain age, where the choices are slim indeed. I’ve had a different kind of fun in this life between, and it’s because of what I learned in the earlier life between. I discovered I liked gin martinis, a well-cooked steak, a peaty whiskey, and a cigarillo, and laughing with my best girlfriends. I digress a bit, but the big take-a-way for me at this time between is all about choice, in every way… how I respond to people and things, with what I do all the time, how I care for myself, how I set up my home and office spaces, self-care choices, and the people that we share all of this with, well everything really is a choice. This present between life stage for me, feels like it is a time of preparation for my heart and mind and body and spirit for the next between. My best guess is that each of these lives between are meant to prepare us for what’s next.
The point I realize this morning is that no matter the life we are living, the true quality of our lives is about the choices we make for ourselves. It’s not selfish. When we are better versions of ourselves in every aspect of our lives; we have more to offer and more to give. With each stage of our lives we bring more of ourselves to each experience, each relationship, each job, and we prepare ourselves for the next bit of life between. The next life between, whether it be a life living a dream abroad, retiring and traveling the world, retiring and doing a part-time gig, or doing the art you’ve always dreamed you could do, or rekindling love with a high school sweetheart turned husband, it’s all about choosing what’s best for you. It’s my choice. It’s your choice… Build your best life between right now.
Susan Bradley is an American living and working as an English Teacher in Taizhou, Zhejiang, China.