The midlife lesson everyone misses from Under a Tuscan Sun
"What would you do if you could take a five month sabbatical?" Kris asked as she was driving me back to the office after another of our lunch conversations about God, religion, parenting, and midlife.
I have many answers to her question, but I replied with the one that feels most freeing.
"I'd roam Italy. You can blame that on Under a Tuscan Sun."
There was a brief pause as we both took a breath, remembering the movie's story. A forty-something woman reinvents herself after buying an ancient villa in Tuscany. It's a fantasy that I am sure most women in midlife can't help dreaming about. Which is where our conversation went next - the impossibility of that dream.
Yes we CAN pick up and move to Tuscany tomorrow, like Frances Mayes. Or run off to Bali like Elizabeth Gilbert. But both women were childless and single. Running off to exotic locales was far simpler for these two women. Their lives, in that phase, could be 100% about them.
And that is where I think the fantasy's true appeal lies. It's not about Bali or Tuscany. It's a life that doesn't have to consider soccer schedules, helping your partner care for his aging parents, or meeting with you boss first thing Monday morning.
Because life in midlife feels very outwardly-focused, with very little left for you. When Gilbert decides to run off, she doesn't have to worry about her income. When Mayes decides to move to Italy, she doesn't have to worry about uprooting her family. They want to go, they go.
When you have roots - children, a partner, aging parents, or a location-dependent job - the life of Gilbert and Mayes isn't possible.
A few days after my conversation with Kris, I popped some popcorn and slid Under a Tuscan Sun into the DVD player. I've seen this movie so many times y have it memorized. But this time if felt different.
As I watched Mayes find herself inn this new home I discovered the other reason the story is such a fantasy for women my age.
Under a Tuscan Sun is a story of possibilities.
It reminds us that this isn't it, life still has surprises for us. And here's what I think we miss.
Midway through the movie, Mayes shares that she wants a wedding and a family in her new home. And by the end of the movie, it happens. Just not the way she expected.
The movie says enjoy your life, stop trying to force it to be something you think it should be. If you do this, if you eat the ice cream, if you fall asleep in the sun, if you open yourself up, life has a funny way of giving you want you need.
I never missed that message before (the movie is not subtle), but this time something dawned on me. All the things Mayes wanted out of life could have happened as easily in San Francisco, or Iowa for that matter.
She didn't need to move to Tuscany. She needed to open her wounded heart to the possibilities. Moving to another continent might have jump-started the process. But it wasn't necessary.
If I had a five month sabbatical, I would still traipse across Italy. But rather than wait for that day to come, I'd like to stumble upon possibilities that this life, right now, holds.
Because life is filled with "lots and lots of ladybugs."
Photo by Tolga Kilinc
Photo by Rowan Heuvel