The Way Midlife Sneaks Up On You

Alma Ortman
4 min readMar 24, 2023
Photo by Alma Ortman

Driving late to my nephew’s 21st birthday party,
hoping I’m not going to be the only sober one there
is when it hits me:
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​How is this now life?
All my old selves sitting on my shoulders like a string of little brass bells
ringing and singing over the surprises that have come to make
Me, this life, ours as it is now.

How many sounds are you keeping secret?
That’s how I sometimes measure integrity.
But the screams are starting to weigh differently,
like the one about that time I lived on old land
maybe accompanied by a ghost and her husband,
wondering about their love and how much they knew,
wondering about the cliff, the river and the moon.

I had just read a story about the Skeleton Woman
and told a friend about this thing that happens
when two people are scared in love.
And as the skeleton woman found flesh in my words, floating
outside the mouth into air like those quiet dancing bones
to the silence that followed; facing the window, feeling new
is when it hits me:
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​This cliff is just like the deadly one in her story.
How on earth did I get here so exactly?
How is this piece of painful magic now life?

Each day unraveling into its own year of therapy
as I make time for plants and animals I used to dream of one day
knowing — a kind of gratitude that bumps around inside
with synchronicity, a reminder from the 12-year old bell
helping me not forget the sounds of life that really matter.

Later on, my body will tell an unremarkable story
with its bruises, cuts, and strains
that might as well be a stain across my face:
Proof of a deeper journey to the gold part of my heart —
the really strong piece at the core
that isn’t actually broken; it’s just playing pretend.
Like the way pigs will swim in mud even though
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​they don’t actually want to be dirty.
They just need more water. They just need more shade.

The piece of my heart that loves to think it knows what love is
and what this life is for,
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​then loves even more to find out it’s wrong —
the freedom of discovering it knows nothing
and there inside, wisdom opens to more.
I used to imagine it was melty in there,
a soft kind of gold you could paint yourself with.
But it’s not soft: it’s so hard it’s extraordinary —
like the 400-mile piece of metal scientists found last week
at the center of our earth, with a crystal structure that is different
than the rest of the core, and it makes music out of earthquakes.

This year’s space has been a muddy expansion inside contraction,
A series of dreams interrupted by lucidity just long enough
to dance with the chorus of the aftershocks.
And I think I’ll stay here for a while: light and shadow
pushing together against my strong, strong heart
like giant stars, both dusty and wise and outside of time,
each one helping make the other exist.

As an experiment, I think back to 5 years ago
and hear a bell that sounds like grief, unopened,
and a girl hurt so hard, she only knows how to taste bitter
to protect the structure inside.
And the grace
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ And the compassion
​ ​ ​​​ ​​ ​​​ ​ ​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​I have for her is a tidal wave
to any bits of shame that want to close my eyes,
helping me hold her with arms brightened by this minute right here, and messages like:
Just hang on, sweetheart. It’s amazing how little we can see.
Just hang on, sweet heart. It’s amazing how things will change
for you and me. And now, instead of falling down the darker notes
of: Little fool, what did you get this self into now?
Little fool, what lesson are you going on about now?
It is: Oh, sweet fool. There’s no denying it:
You are so good.
​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​You are so good.
​ ​ ​​​ ​​ ​​​ ​ ​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​​ ​ ​​​ ​ ​You are so good.
© 2023 Alma Ortman. All Rights Reserved



Alma Ortman

Mindful poet & lifelong learner. Musings on belonging, authentic connection, joy, spirit, body, nature, inner work, vulnerability, self-love, fierce compassion