mal·aise: noun mə-lāz, ma-, -lez
1: an indefinite feeling of debility or lack of health often indicative of or accompanying the onset of an illness
2: a vague sense of mental or moral ill-being <a malaise of cynicism and despair — Malcolm Boyd>
*definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online
Last Monday was more Monday than usual. I was coming down with a cold; just the beginning drips and tickles that haven’t developed into a full-fledged case of the cruds. It was at the point where you still hold out hope you can fight it off, but deep-down you know you won’t be able to. That didn’t help me cope any better with my constant companion of late – the little black cloud I’ve been walking around under.
I’ve been toting around a sack of malaise that sometimes has me teetering on the brink of despair.
Why? Various reasons. The health concerns of beloved, aging parents, setbacks at work, worries for my children, angst over the direction our country is taking, etc, etc, etc.
All that stuff is worrying me, it’s true, but it’s not the bottom line. If I’m being honest, I don’t want to be. Honest, I mean. It may be the best policy, but in my case it’s not very flattering, to wit:
The main thing bothering me is the shuffling off of this mortal coil. The wrinkling, sagging, bagging, decay of the body. Gaining back some of the weight I recently lost. The depressing slide from Woman with a capital va-va-voom to Matron. The where-do-I-go-from-here that comes with being how-the-hell-did-I-get-to-be-53-years old.
In short; it’s a mid-life crisis.
How distressingly cliché. I know.
I left my office after work that Monday in my sweats, as usual, but no way I was going to the YMCA. To hell with that workout stuff – why bother? I didn’t want to go home, either. I took my crabby self to a local park hoping a walk would clear the mental cobwebs that were clouding my vision of the world. At the very least it would distract me from the constant temptation to score just a little hit from my favorite pusher – Little Debbie.
I plugged the ear buds into my iPod and started out around the small lake in the park. It took a ¼ turn before it penetrated my gloom that it was a perfect, early fall day; not cold, not hot. The trees had turned color suddenly, overnight it seemed. We woke up one morning and fall color was here with its intense, fleeting display. I started walking faster.
My favorite song, “Roundabout” , came through my ear buds, filling my head and lifting my spirits.
The sky was still bright at early evening, clear and blue, but the sun had started its descent. It painted the undersides of the clouds pink and made my shadow a stilt-walker, almost touching the lake.
I built up steam, both legs moving faster. They did the bidding of my agile brain without conscious thought; smoothly, easily, chubby thighs, cellulite and all. My 2 hands clenched, fingers wrinkled, limber and whole. My arms pumped free and easy despite once-freckles now turned to age-spots. My breathing sounded loud in my ears, the way it echoes when you’re wearing headphones. Not harsh or strained, but forceful, evidence that I was walking strong. My lungs filled and pushed out clear and clean, with no impediment. My heart pumped: ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, rhythmic, faster. I demanded more and it delivered – no problem.
All of my own teeth – for the most part. Thank you, modern dentistry.
All my own parts – except for tonsils traded for ice cream in 3rd grade and gall bladder traded for pain relief at 40. It’s all Factory Original Equipment, too, regardless of what the tabloids may imply.
All those parts were operating together, if not in perfect harmony, then at least in some semblance of cooperation. This magical, human machine was all systems go and I was in control of it.
53! It wasn’t too long ago I would have been at the feeble end of life, the oldest crone in the tribe. People would marvel at my great age as they settled me on an ice floe with a one-way ticket to Valhalla. And yet, in this day and age, I am just in the middle (ish) with a long way to go, God willing.
I walked around the lake a second time as fast as I could without running. I strained to use all of my senses to experience my self and the spaces around me and I was filled with contentment. At the same time, I was ashamed.
I did nothing to earn any of this. It isn’t deserved. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not an especially crappy human being, but neither am I an especially saintly one. There is no rhyme or reason for all the gifts I have. I can’t understand, and I can’t explain. All I can do, the very least I can do, is appreciate.
Which brings me to this last part. It’s kind of a prayer.