On my father's 50th birthday, he told us that each decade represents a day of the week. Given the biblical age span of 70 Thursday corresponds to 50. Quoting a Jewish sage, he said that 50 is the time to start preparing for Shabbes, for the ultimate journey, for death.
Of course, the traditional Jewish father gets his sons to mourn for him during his lifetime, but aside from that, my father ever-aware of what time it was, informed us, his intimates and the rest of the universe that the end is nigh.
There are often at this age frantic grasps at life - and for many men, women (younger women especially) hold a particular attraction. This is true not insomuch as they are women per se, but rather as they may be a reflection of the man himself. A young woman is a flattering mirror to him and an advertisement to society that he is also still young and seed-producing, still capable of siring children, of making life. (Think of Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday on JFK's 45th) The bride of his youth who followed him into the desert and helped him become successful (and carried his children) is also a reminder that even as early as midday, the sun begins its descent. No sooner are we in the thick of it, then we have begun our decline.
One is tempted to paint two stark alternatives at opposite ends of a mental boxing ring. In this corner (with bulging muscles) we have Regression and in this corner, sweating profusely and wearing a towel across his shoulders, Progress, Maturity. The two sides of the middle-aged man must duke it out and make a choice: progress or regress.
It seems that something like that may have been going for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford last week. Although it is impossible to actually know what is inside his head, one, however, might guess from his words that he is tortured between agonizing opposites -- not only between two women, but rather two ways of how he ought to be. He seemed, during his press conference last week, to be casting about for a safe harbor to dock.
His drama of sin, confession, forgiveness and atonement ("I've let people down" and his digression about G-d's laws) seemed only to intensify the choices in his mind: marriage, the Right Path sanctioned by church, morals, bible study group vs. the side of him that wants. But wants what we don't know. How much is this about the women in his life or about 2 sides of himself?
The question of course, is why did he feel compelled to act as he did? Did he have to have the affair? Did he have to go away and not tell anyone only to be found out? It is possible that for some people to be stilled is to be killed. In order to still himself, he may have felt that he would have to have to kill something inside him and in the end, he could not. Some refer to this as the "hungry child within." But this "child" left unchecked is a killer. In Sanford's case, it may have "killed" 2 women, his marriage and his career.
We therapists are in an awkward position. We are not moralists, but we have morals. We are not destroyers, but we know well the temptation to destroy. We want happiness, fulfillment and pleasure for our patients. We help the patient put destructive feelings into words so that they don't act these feelings. In this way we prevent both homicide and suicide.
However, this is no easy task. If we encourage the patient to say no to a strong desire, they may feel as though they're dying. What's more is that some people honestly don't know how they feel until they act. They need to act, however destructively, in order to know how they feel. However, if we encourage or even "let" the patient act it may result in killing.
A delicate path can be negotiated between these two, but in most instances, there will be some blood. That is almost for sure.