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  • Aarik Danielsen

A Quiet Mid-Life Crisis

Yesterday I caught a woman crying in her car in the library parking lot. 

I hesitate to transmit the scene, afraid to write my profit from someone else’s pain. Yet this stranger’s every gesture moved me past the momentary into something innate, something at the level of my own atoms.

She leaned into the dash’s plastic consolation, then leaned away, dried tear-cornered eyes along the spans of her folded hands. She heaved her breath behind glass, silent as far as my concern, and I looked into a mirror image of how I’m living.  

Forty-three, with 44 waiting for me at year’s end, this American mid-life crisis unfolds softly, in murmurs. 

No idling hum from engines of self-indulgence. No younger woman whispering the cradle of my ear with sweetness, emptiness. No guitars swelling into soundtrack, sweeping me out the door into something like retreat. 

Never one for undue noise, I grow quieter still as I grow older. This moment, this series of daily passages touch me two ways: through the noise which hems me inside the car and the nothing everyone else hears. 

Inside, gray noise made up of questions in collision; regrets ringing tinny bells tuned to rare and personal frequencies. 

The clamor comes like this: You wasted your twenties chasing the wrong dreams. You spent your thirties laboring to be right, to sway every conversation partner. How will you let slip your forties, by God? All this time, never coming back. 

Oh Lord, just give me the blood and the bread and the broken tablets that tell of everything good in life, death and the resurrection.

Some friendly exchange yields a seeming minor insight, unlocking the errors of years. Or a spark leads me to open a volume of Steinbeck, touch David Berman’s poems or turn up the band Suicide, any and all for the first time. And shame settles, new dust on an already littered plain. 

Why does it take you so long? When will you ever learn all there is to being human? Will you ever learn? The buzzing behind my breastbone sounds like that. 

My soft crisis supplies a particular ache, the rich sadness—or sad richness—of bending into simpler shapes. I no longer puff out a complicated chest, but form prayers which rise to less than whispers and aren’t really prayers. Simple isn’t necessarily wrong, but it hurts.

Saturday nights, I want to stay home and live in line break and verse. Sunday mornings, I want everything but high definition. Oh Lord, just give me the blood and the bread and the broken tablets that tell of everything good in life, death and the resurrection. Please, would you bless the births, the weddings and the funerals and give us just enough to hold?

Here I sit still, refuse to sing out loud, feel like I’m saying too much without uttering a word. There is a fear of the entire body becoming a mouth, making more spiritual noise. I cannot bear even the thought of my internal monologue kissing the air past my lips, hanging weighted before its hearers. 

On the drive home, my son asks capital-letter Questions about you, O Lord, and my head sounds like a sixth-floor hotel ice machine pressed too many times before I refer him to his mother. 

Monday through Friday, friends face the void, pouring out their cancers and their literary disappointments, lamenting known betrayals, reading back all the messages some cruel person stamped “return to sender.” Manifold jazz chords vibrate my body—big, bold, Brubeck sevenths and ninths. But I cannot play a single note for my friends; every song I ever knew slips down the stave, pools like old rain at the bar lines. 

Persian-American artist Anis Mojgani gathers all the noise and disquiet and gives me up without us ever meeting when he says, “I dream too much and I don't write enough and I'm trying to find god everywhere.” 

So I decide to lean into the quiet. I will go where softness goes.

His words convey everything I think and feel, all I exhale in the safe, solitary chamber of my gray Honda. Forte inside, silent nearly everywhere else. At best, I return the sound of keystroke sighs. Softness leans toward sense, or at least a brokered treaty with all the divine searching, on the page. Otherwise, I just can’t make noise. 

So I decide to lean into the quiet. I will go where softness goes. I will go where the beautiful language lives in hopes that, before mid-life’s last days, the language becomes mine and is clearly heard. 

Even if I feel too far behind to take on great literature as an independent study, I burrow between the lines, revel in the sentences. I take in the music of The National and Ruston Kelly and Frightened Rabbit, not to fight noise with noise but to hum David’s harp songs as they soothe the irritated King Saul in me. 

I hike into Midwestern mists for the sake of the softness, to not deny but walk miles alongside whatever quieter, better angels might be out there. I sing Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” a little flat and near the edge of my lungs—not near anyone’s ears, but anywhere walls close around me like a confessional.

And I am trying, even if only here and only now, to roll down the windows and let someone know it is not well with my soul, but my soul is a well and I fear going under. When the fresh air floods in, I think maybe—eventually—the softness will stay, the noise will fade. 


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