Midlife, Swimming Pools and Death

Midlife, Swimming Pools and Death

La madurez, las albercas y la muerte

Lorís Simón Salum

Some argue there is no such thing as a midlife crisis. From a strictly physical lens, I suppose a crisis is only a crisis if you make it into one. “It is all in your head,” they’d say. It is just not that simple though, is it? The classic situation is the following: aging parents, children transitioning into adulthood, health declining, death approaching, and most importantly, perspective changing. What is most valuable to me in the midst of the chaos is the widening, the broadening of one’s perception. Take a few of marbles to represent life’s problems and drop them into a full cup of water. Most likely, the water will overflow. Take those same marbles and drop them into a swimming pool. Most likely, no one will ever find your marbles again. The metaphor here focuses the attention of midlife from a question of crises to a matter of inner bandwidth. The grand majority of the lucky members of the 40 plus club can attest to their capacity for managing any given situation better now than they would have in their 20’s. Yet midlife is not about the contrast of the younger years, rather a confrontation with the years to come. Yes, you have a pool instead of a cup, but can you swim?

Erik Erikson, in his theory of development, would give his two options during this stage of life: generativity or stagnation. Will you generate, perhaps re-generate? Or will you stagnate? I know one thing for sure, neither you nor I will live forever. I also know that neither you nor I will ever receive an omniscient letter grade in life. It is all a matter of perspective within a given timeframe. Have you gotten what you wanted? Is what you wanted still worth it? Desire is such an ephemeral phenomenon. The concrete kinds of wishes are usually driven by good advertisement. Jackson’s (2021) article explores how mid-century studies reveal age-linked marketing taking the reins on personal life course aspirations. He states, “Marketing techniques that played on age as a measure of achievement—or failure—were echoed in advertisements… From the early twentieth century, it became commonplace not only to measure life in annual or decennial increments, but also to evaluate individual and family progress against age-specific benchmarks of status and success, at home as much as at work” (Jackson, 2021, p. 350). On a separate fragment of the desire spectrum, there are the other kinds of yearnings that tend not to be available to the naked eye. They blossom with time. It takes the clock a few thousand rounds for those pair of eyes to bud into existence. There is a flexibility that strengthens from looking outward to looking inward. What then? Reaching a place where there are scarcely any examples to draw a conjecture from, you are left with no points of reference as to how to proceed.

Distance has a way of skewing the horizon. Culturally, there is an emotional distance from older generations, and there is also a rarely-discussed separateness from our existential context. I find the detachment from our grandparents’ generation somewhat of a result of the individualistic society we are embedded in, the prioritization of I over anything or anyone else. There is no intention behind my words of shedding a negative light on this phenomenon; it is what it is. The grand majority of us do not get to review our ascendants’ feelings about the changing world so that we have a documented timeline about the affectual evolution of our lineage. We are not raised to talk about these things because, depending on the background, the focus was likely elsewhere. I do wonder what could have changed if we did have a kind of biblical text that was passed down for the past 500 years, exclusive to each family. Maybe we would learn about how avoid the illusion of perfection, the repeated regrets, the missed opportunities. What a nice fantasy. Instead, every child will cross the same hurdles and travel through parallel doors, all in the silence of the generational gap.

When the conversations that matter are outside our reach, my inclination is to find the answers within (It sounds like something you would read from a fortune cookie, does it not?). Once more, we find ourselves without guidelines, without expectations, without anchors to pull us back into sanity. Distance, yet again, from the very existential questions that brought us to this world. The movie Wall-E (2008) was such a hit because of its blatant critique of the human condition. We don’t need to fly to deep space to relate to the disconnect from anything that we deem “natural.” There are narratives about women undergoing such existential shifts from a biological standpoint, an innate ritual that moves us into greater depths. I believe those discourses are hardly based on the “true true,” as the post-apocalyptic tribespeople from Cloud Atlas (2012) say, since neither menstruation nor childbirth guarantees greater knowledge of the self. There were also talks emerging from the mythopoetic men’s movement about ritual into new stages of life that sustained an inner transformation without losing sight of the community. These have hardly hit the surface. The biggest association to men’s midlife has been implanted by mainstream media depicting divorce, an expensive car and a voluptuous young woman. In regards to the queer community in midlife, there is much to be unfolded. We don’t share the deeper parts of our hearts, the areas that barely get sunlight. We seldom notice the invisible tides. We don’t talk about mentorship (the kind that’s free). We don’t bring up menopause. We look away from the impending threat of Atropos’ scissors.

Whether it is a midlife crisis or a midlife transition, I argue that the cultural term becomes irrelevant. There is surely something real that happens around that point, for better or for worse. Einstein said that time is not linear. No one manages to live life that way. What if, for a moment, we tried? What if there is a very real possibility of tuning into something timeless, a voice that is far wiser than our current years. The more we converse with it, the better we can distinguish the tones, the inflections, the volume, the infantile and the aged. When experiencing passages, there is something about the continuous practice of finding the eye of the storm. It a spiritual exercise, a settling into a timeless void, where you receive subtle glimpses of truth. Alluding to the initial conversation of this text, I believe this is when we learn how to swim. The experience is present. The bandwidth has been stretched. The muscles have been strengthened. The message has been voiced. Now then, how deep are you willing to go?


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Jackson, M. (2021). Broken dreams: An intimate history of the midlife crisis. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Science, 57(4), 430-432.

Kuther, T.L. & Burnell, K. (2019). A life span developmental perspective on psychosocial development in midlife. Adultspan Journal, 18(1), 27-39.

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LorisLorís Simón Salum is a psychotherapist in private practice in Houston, TX. She is the author of Ensoulment: Exploring the Feminine Principle in Western Culture (2016), as well as the film director of the multi award-winning documentary Ensoulment: A Diverse Analysis of the Feminine in Western Culture (2013). She was the Creative Director for Literal Magazine for over 10 years. Some of her projects included Literally Short Film Festival, Literal’s short international film festival, and Literally Everything, Literal’s podcast. You can find her at







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