The author of a book I am re-reading refers to a term used by another author [Ann Michaels]: gradual instants. Things seem to happen in an instant, or because of a single decision; but when you look back you realize it was all gradual; many forks, many decisions, all leading to where we are at any given moment. Sometimes the journey looks like we expected it to; but often it seems to bear no resemblance at all. And we say, "This is not how it should be." Counselors call it "shoulding on yourself." I have been thinking this week about the shoulds and the gradual instants in my life.
At my high school graduation ceremony, the vocal ensemble, for which I was the pianist, sang my favorite poem. You know the one, by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I--I took the one less traveled by…” It sounded very fine, but I had no thought--and no courage, even if I had had the thought--of taking a less traveled road. In retrospect, I probably didn’t even know what it meant. In 1970 there were still a lot of shoulds for women, and I thought I was buying into them. I certainly meant to. In my family, college was an assumption; and the stated expectation was that one finished in four years. But then what? Nothing was stated for what was to come next for me and my two sisters. I had no role model for anything other than the traditional life of a woman. I figured to get married, have children, and one day celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. That is what should have been. Fact is, there is nothing certain about this life. I made it right up to the 50th anniversary part. But before I got even halfway there, my life took another road, “...and that has made all the difference.”
I should have celebrated my 35th wedding anniversary this month. Instead I have been not married almost as long as I was married. I am going to a wedding next weekend. My niece is getting married. Except I guess she is my ex-niece. She is my former brother-in-law's daughter. But the only thing former about the family is that her uncle is no longer my husband. Should I consider all the relatives former, or ex- (an ugly term that I refuse to use), just because that relationship took a fork in the road? He is still the father of my forever children. Some would say that I shouldn’t be going to the wedding; that I have no place there. Two years ago my niece asked me to come; because, she said, I am her aunt. I am going.
I should be 18 years into a counseling career. I felt so old when I got the degree at age 40, but if I had stuck with it I would be approaching 20 years with a state retirement in reach. I guess I wasn't all that old. But the work didn’t make me happy. And even if it had, I can’t imagine doing the same thing for that many years. And so I took another branch on the trail. And one thing led to another to another. I have suddenly realized that I am a traveler. Or perhaps I just suddenly named it; it has happened gradually over a lifetime.
I am so different from the person my parents raised me to be. Or am I? If I had had different parents or been raised differently, I would not be me. I believe what they wanted for me, and raised me to be, is an independent thinker. They taught me to love the outdoors--which is, by definition, a place of freedom and solitude. Much of the time during my last years at home, my father was away on business. I watched my mother care for her children, except for financially, pretty much alone. I didn't see that he was her absent support, I just saw the alone part. I just saw her independent strength. (And truly, it was only much later that I named that for what it was.) I married someone just like my father, and I was alone with our children much of the time, while he was working out-of-town. Why should I be surprised that I turned out strong, independent, and in love with solitude? Gradual instants. It all led to this point. Maybe it is all as it should be; just not what was expected. The uncertainty in my life, the not knowing what is coming next, is what has been the most exciting part of my journey. It is a journey without a known destination. It feels so hard some of the time, but it is the love of my life.
The garden is full of gradual instants. In the spring it is all happening underground. When the perennials stick their sprouts through the ground, it did not happen in an instant, though it appears to. The leaves, which seem to turn colors all of a sudden, really are working up to it. The color has, in fact, been there all along. But photosynthesis produced the dominant green that covered the color. Or something like that. When the sun gets weak there is not enough light for photosynthesis and the color dominates again. The leaves need the sun's light, though, so they drop off their branches without it and the trees go to sleep for the winter, living off the food stored during the summer. There is nothing about the process that happens in an instant. We have had a lot of late-season warmth, and the trees have done exactly what they should do, just on this year's unique time table.
5 years ago