A Bright Sadness

There is a gravitas in the second half of life, but it is now held up by a much deeper lightness, or “okayness.” Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness, if that makes any sense. There is still darkness in the second half of life—in fact maybe even more. But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety. It is what John of the Cross called “luminous darkness,” and it explains the simultaneous coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy that we see in the saints, which is almost impossible for most of us to imagine.

Life is much more spacious now, the boundaries of the container having been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships. You are like an expandable suitcase, and you became so almost without your noticing. Now you are just here, and here holds more than enough. Such “hereness,” however, has its own heft, authority, and influence.

One’s growing sense of infinity and spaciousness is no longer found just “out there” but most especially “in here.” The inner and the outer have become one. You can trust your inner experience now, because even God has allowed it, used it, received it, and refined it. As St. Augustine dramatically put it in his Confessions:

You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.

— Richard Rhor

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