Dear Donagh,

…. I think I'm dying of normality.  Everyone around me is normal, my husband is normal, my kids are normal (the eldest is doing accountancy), even the dog is normal – he doesn’t bother himself to bark and he sleeps most of the day.  My friends are normal, they play bridge and talk about their children.  There's absolutely no excitement in my life.  The last straw was when I was telling one of my friends how I felt, and she said, “That's not normal.”  I'm finding religion a bit too normal as well - always the same thing.  Would you describe your life as normal?  Were we born to be normal?  Tell me there's a place for excitement and escape from normality.  I'm 50 this year and I'm afraid of becoming 80 and still being normal….  Carmel

Dear Carmel,

Well, thank God at least that your name isn’t Norma.  That loop of normality that you are in doesn’t last long usually – at least, not so long that we become tired of it.  When you are in it, it is hard to imagine that there are many people who, for good reasons, long for it as for life itself. 

The word ‘norma’ was once used to refer to a carpenter’s square.  That will hardly come as a surprise to you – everything regular, level, and plumb…. It could be the description of a prison cell.  So here’s a suggestion.  When you feel suffocated by all that normality in your life, say: “It won’t last!”  Try thinking of it as the calm before the storm.  Don’t worry: the road between 50 and 80 is not a level one.  I can assure you of that. 

Here’s an image that may help to make sense of it.  If you throw a stone into the air, its highest speed is at the moment it leaves your hand.  Then, moment by moment, the pull of gravity slows it down, until at the highest point the upward force and the downward pull are about equal.  Everything is slow, almost stopped.  That's where you are now, at the age of fifty.  But don’t worry, things will soon speed up again – or appear to do so.  The day will come when you will find that everything is too fast for you.  Enjoy the leisurely pace now.  But that's not much comfort, I know…. 

Something more practical.  Find a friend who is slightly daft – or has the capacity to be so.  I love slightly daft people myself, people who do and say quirky things.  A beloved cousin of mine described her friend, appreciatively, as “daft as a brush.”  All humour is a kind of daftness.  It’s a leap off the beaten track.  You are listening to a story, which is going forward along a logical (normal) track when suddenly, on the play of a word or an image, you are in a different place.  Why do you think there are clowns?  It’s because they are needed.  Since there is no clown in your family, you may have to become a clown yourself – for your own sake and for the sake of all those normal people around you, especially your accountant son and that dog.  Do things that will make them lift their heads from their different kinds of sleep.  If everything is too normal, you have to become the abnormal.… I wouldn’t dare to make any practical suggestions here: you’ll know how to come up with stunts that don’t endanger your marriage….

Middle age is an important phase of life, and it comes around only once.  It is the age when great changes can happen and new projects begin.  The first words of Dante’s Divina Commedia were: “In the middle of the journey of our life / I found myself astray in a dark wood / where the straight road was lost.”  That place is familiar to everyone, sooner or later.  What do we typically do when we are astray and lost?  We stop dead, or we turn back to a familiar track – any track, so long as it is familiar.  But there’s another way: keep going, explore, welcome the unfamiliar.  Suddenly the patterned world loosens up, and there are more possibilities than at any time since childhood.  Dante’s exploration secured him a front seat in heaven, hell, and purgatory.  I wouldn’t be capable of great adventures myself, but I can see that some degree of adventure remains possible for everyone.  Join some adventure group.  Stun your children by posting on TikTok.  Drop off the dog a mile from home and see how long it takes him to get back to his bed.  (A mile is nothing for a dog, and they have some sort of built-in google-maps.)  Normal exists only if you allow it. 

Best of luck, Carmel.


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