I was raised in an unusual household. Since it’s human nature to value most what we don’t have and dismiss what we’re given, I envied my friends’ more normal experience of life. As an adult I treasured the trappings of normalcy and conformity while at the same time distancing myself from the chaos of my childhood. By the time I reached the half century mark, I decided normal was boring. Maybe my formative years didn’t look like everyone else’s, but at least they were rarely dull. Looking back from a safe distance I could even acknowledge there was something to be said for living life a little closer to the edge of acceptability and maybe stepping over that invisible line a time or two.
So at that definitive stage of my life I set out to find a happy medium between the two, the former me and the current me. Maybe if I could fit the right pieces together from each I would find the real me. I read an article recently from an end-of-life caregiver that revealed one of the 5 most common regrets of the dying was they wished they had lived a more authentic life…a life focused less on the expectations of others and more on what was important to them.( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bronnie-ware/top-5-regrets-of-the-dyin_b_1220965.html). It was as though I read those words when I stood at the starting line of my search for the new more authentic version of myself. I didn’t want to wait until I was dying to suddenly wake up and understand what I truly valued in life.
I knew I wasn’t interested in throwing out the baby with the bath water. There were so many blessings in my life I didn’t want to change: my husband of thirty years, my beautiful children, friends, family, and so many things we’d built together over the years. No, I was after a more subtle approach. A mindful pruning rather than a wholesale slaughter. Mindful. I like that word. It implies consideration, forethought, a weighing of pros and cons, of acknowledging meaningful change was not accomplished without price, sometimes a relatively steep price. So decided I would proceed mindfully when I set off in search of the scattered pieces of my soul I left behind on this journey called life. When I shut the door so firmly on my childhood, I paid the price of spontaneity, foolishness, blind faith and the kind of love that gave all, never counting the cost. I lost touch with the mystery of life beyond my physical senses. I lost touch with God, with the sacred, with eternity.
I figured I had a lot of catching up to do. Where better to begin than at the beginning? First I unpacked some old treasures and held both my mother’s rosary and tarot cards in my hands, remembering what she taught me about eternity, faith, God, and what awaited us on the other side of the veil. I tempered my mother’s more mystical view of life with my father’s more practical, scientific version of reality. Somewhere between the two extremes was where I would find my own. So I set out literally on a journey to find my true self. I took once in a lifetime trips with my husband. I admired Michelangelo’s David in Florence and was awed by his Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. I took a ride on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. I walked along the Via Dolorosa in Old Jerusalem, drove along the Amalfi coast in southern Italy, swam (or floated really) in the Dead Sea, and was serenaded on a gondola ride in Venice. I was blown away by the agent civilization of Petra in Jordan and rode a camel in the desert. I took up yoga and performed sun salutations at dawn on a beach along the Atlantic. I remembered how much I enjoyed writing and renewed my passion for it. I wrote books and blogs and learned the ins and outs of twitter. I jogged. I biked. I lost 20 pounds. I let my hair grow half way down my back.
Most important of all, I gave myself permission to fail. All of a sudden life became filled with new possibilities. Suddenly there was more to do than I could find time for and none of the more revolved around the television or Internet. It was all right to try and not succeed at something the first time, or try a new hobby and let it go after a few weeks or months because I didn’t particularly care for it, even though I invested all that money in start-up costs. I borrowed the philosophy of yoga and made it my own. I read that there was a reason yoga was referred to as yoga practice and not yoga perfect. Just like life. I determined to view my own as the practice of life, not the perfection of it. There’s no such thing as a perfect life. By its very nature, life is messy and awkward and complicated, and at the same time so beautifully, wonderfully simple.
In between all of this self-discovery I worked, I watched two children graduate from college, and our youngest from high school. I celebrated engagements, weddings and the births of loved ones, and mourned the passing of others. I paid bills, fixed things that were broken, worried about how we were going to pay for retirement…hoping someday we could. Through it all, time kept count of the days and months and years as they passed. I can look back now on the past with the perspective only time and distance can offer. I’m grateful to both my former self and my former, former self and acknowledge without regret neither version fits me particularly well today.
But that’s all right, because we don’t discover the meaning of life or our true selves in distant places standing before even the most awesome vistas. We create our individual lives moment by moment, not milestone by milestone. Our memories provide a patchwork-quilt view of where we’ve been. Where we go from here is a delightful mystery. Each day we renew ourselves. Each day we set off on a new journey. Don’t wait until death comes calling to set off on yours.