Saturday, May 05, 2007

One year ago today...

A dizzying view of possibilities from atop the Empire State Building one year ago.

It would certainly be tidier if it actually was one year ago today. Alas, I missed the exact date. One year ago yesterday was really when our adventures began. But, hey, close enough.

One year ago today, give or take 24 hours, I set off on a trip abroad. The first in my life. Unless we're counting Canada or Mexico. And I don't think anyone counts that. Deb recently posted a meme about life changing events and I'd have to say that my trip counts as one of those events for me. The kind where there is a very clearly defined before and afterness to it. Like before and after I became a mother. Before and after I went through a divorce. That sort of HUGE Before and After.

Some of you who have been around for awhile will remember that I was originally slightly unhappy (UNDERSTATEMENT!) about the trip. When it first came up, the December before we left, I had just finished up a long year of family obligations and had made up a plan for how I wanted my next year to unfold, thank you very much. The trip was given to me pretty much as a done deal. I could have said no. But for obvious and not so obvious reasons, I knew that I would go. The trip, although it was something I had spoken about in vague "someday" terms, was my husband's idea in the end. He wanted me to take William overseas. He wanted to give William a Life Changing Experience. What he didn't know was that he would be giving me a Life Changing Experience as well.

I wouldn't have told you I knew it would be a Life Changing Experience myself. I knew only that no one in their right mind would turn it down for any of the reasons I wanted to turn it down. (although, my mother did - still think you made the wrong decision Mom) Now looking back, maybe on some subconscious level I did know, or at least I suspected. Maybe that was really why I resisted the idea, resented it. Good or bad, change is scary. And a lot of work. And Change, with a capital C, is even scarier and even more work.

I don't think it was traveling itself that made it a Life Changing Experience. It was the fact that I did it at just the right moment in my life. A time when my old identity was losing it's cohesiveness, and a new identity had not yet been created. If I had really thought it through, I would have known it was foolish to expect to go off on such grand adventures and expect to come back and just pick up life as it had been - because life as it had been was already unraveling for me. Not in a bad way. It was simply that most of the goals and purposes that my life had wound themselves around had been accomplished or were no longer necessary. I came home with my head full of ideas and my life open to.... anything. Really. My choices were now wide open, way beyond just adding a few new knicknacks. I could take it further and repaint the walls a new color. Knock down the walls and go for a complete remodel. Or why even stay in the same house - move someplace else. (Metaphor for Me, folks. I can't really move someplace else for at least a few more years.)

Along the way, every day, each of us make choices. We walk along a path that starts at the time of our birth, some would even say before birth, and move forward. Like a tree or coral or river or road (pick the analogy of your choice), it continues to branch. Each day we make a hundred small choices to take the path to the left or to the right. Or the one in the middle. We decide to go to work or call in sick. We pick soup or salad. We make that phone call or let it go another day. And sometimes we are called upon to make bigger choices. School or work? Get married or let the relationship go? Survive the crisis or fall apart? Heal the relationship or let it decay?

With every choice we've made, big or small, we travel into new territory and stuff gets left behind, parts of us are abandoned - with regrets or not, wistfully, with relief, or with bittersweet waves goodbye. Sometimes we forget about those pieces of us that didn't make it when we took one path over another. You didn't have time to practice the guitar after you got a full time job - gave it away to a friend. You wanted to get a Masters degree but decided it wasn't worth the time away from the family. You used to make your own bread but, you don't know, life got busy and.... A lot of these pieces of us we didn't leave behind because we outgrew them or no longer enjoyed them but simply because life requires us to make choices. And so we did.

But here's the thing I discovered, one of the Life Changing Experience facets of my trip. As we go along in life, making choices, relatively happy with them, one can forget that something left behind because it wasn't the right option then, doesn't mean it's not an option now. I know this sounds a little obvious, but I bet I'm not the only one that forgets that there's an ENTIRE WORLD of options open to us. We're used to thinking of choices in a narrow sort of way. We think our options are only those things that we have at hand, in sight, at any given moment. We move along, for the most part, in fairly straight paths.

It's not a far stretch to think "I"m tired of my job as a nurse's aide. Maybe it's time to consider getting my nursing degree." It's a whole bigger leap to think "I'm tired of my job as a nurse,s aide, that I took years ago because it was the best financial move at the time and hmmmm... maybe I should make a change. Y'know I used to love riding horses when I was a kid, maybe I'll go to rodeo school (yes they really have them, we have a rodeo degree at our local community college) and try my hand on the circuit. " Yeah. Bet that sort of leap wasn't anything you were expecting, huh! And I bet you don't usually take that type of huge, in-no-way-connected leap in thinking about your own life either. We don't make those types of huge leaps without something big, whether good or bad, happening in our life - a Life Changing Experience. Something to make us even consider changing direction.

What happened on this trip for me was that it took me so completely out of my normal life, so detached from all the things I expect to do, feel responsible to do, that I was able to live life, if for just one month, "from scratch". Or at least as much from scratch as an adult can do. We adults like to hang on to what we think we already know about the world. Despite the disadvantage of age, the trip shook me loose and let me interact with the world from as new a perspective as possible.

And in doing that, it allowed me to rediscover parts of me that had been left behind at assorted forks in the road. There was the artist me that was set aside just one class short of my degree when my husband decided to go to work for his brother and we moved to a new college-less town. There was the adventurous me that took off cross country by myself at 18 with no clue that anyone would worry, that was left behind when I became a mom and understood that worry. There was the young me who used to read ghost stories late into the night and wonder what else was out in the world that no one really knew was true who couldn't keep up with the busy schedule of an adult.

When I came home at the end of May last year, I was filled with a sense of Anything is Possible. I alternated for a long time between floating in the happiness of that and worrying that I might wake up one day and find that my new found sense of possibility had somehow dissipated overnight and was gone forever. But as the months went on, my reawakened sense of wonder didn't disappear. It didn't fade away. If anything, it's grown stronger as time has gone by and now a year later I can say with conviction that I don't think it ever will. It was a Before and After. It was a Life Changing Experience.

One year ago, standing where thousands have stood at the beginning of a new life.
(Clearly those immigrants had a exponentially larger job creating a new life than I do!)

What I do with the After, well, that hasn't been decided yet. I feel like I'm just starting to realize what a gift it was and how much there is to unwrap. I'm in no hurry to start leaving parts of me by the wayside yet as I take the left fork or the middle one. Instead I've set up camp in this big sunny meadow with lots of space. I'm gathering up new supplies and new skills. When the time eventually comes to make new choices, I think I will be the better for this "sabbatical". I'll be fresh and ready and excited for the journey.



Blogger FrenchGardenHouse said...


What a thought provoking post! I think that each time we discover that the biggest restrictions we have are really the ones we put on ourselves, it's exciting!

I agree, the rest of our life is a dizzying array of possibilities!

10:29 PM  

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