Pick Your Path

I recently had the great fortune to have lunch with one of my sisters. That may not sound like a big deal, but it was. She lives a few hours away, and usually when we get together it is because of some big family function or holiday with kids and spouses and a house full of people and there is no real time to connect one on one. This was different. She was only going to be in town for a couple of days and I already had evening plans both nights. So she suggested lunch. I decided to take the afternoon off. What a great decision! We sat at an old favorite local place sipping coffee for several hours, talking; just the two of us.

One thing she said to me has kept coming back. She feels as though she “wasted” a part of her life. She was specifically talking about her 20’s – most of that decade. I know what she means, and in my recollection of that time in her life she was embarking on a career path, but her personal life may not have been all she wanted at the time. I’m not sure I said it clearly enough then, but I will say it clearly now. That part of your life was not wasted, my dear sister. It was preparing you for what came afterwards.

But that got me to thinking about my own life and decisions. Each of us makes choices in life. We choose our friends. We may choose an educational path. Often we choose a career or workplace. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to choose where we live. We choose a life partner; or not. Those choices do not happen overnight, nor do they happen in rapid succession. Most often we make decisions on a continuum; one thing leads to another.

As I look back over my 50 plus years, I know that there are opportunities I squandered and things I could and should have done differently. There are plenty of times when I should have been more helpful, more caring, and kinder. Sure, I have some regrets and part of my youth was definitely misspent. But I also see now that the choices I made at the time ultimately led me to the life I have with my family and career. Perhaps even my bad decisions at times were necessary in order to propel me towards something different.

choose your pathEach of us begins life with a background. I happen to have been born smack dab in the middle of a family of five children, which may give me a different perspective than some of my siblings had or have. I also believe that each of us is born with certain personality traits. After these basics are in place, the bulk of our life, I think, is created by choice. We cannot predict the outcome of our decisions, only that we have made a selection based on either logic or emotion or a combination of the two.

Honestly, my darling sister, that part of your life was not pointless or fruitless. I saw you then as a young woman who was searching for a path and learning a lot along the way. I was then, and am now, so proud of your decisions to make some physical moves which I know were emotionally difficult and life-altering. You laid the groundwork for the amazing family you have now and for the journey you have taken so far.

It’s no coincidence that one of my favorite poems is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It is all about making a selection. The best line of that poem, in my humble opinion, is “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” We don’t always get another chance to make a singular choice, even though we may often think about where the other road may have led.

So while I began this about my sister, I will write this out loud as a reminder to myself and for my daughters or anyone else who cares to read it. We make our choices in life and they form the person we become. Living with the results may be difficult or may be wonderful. Circumstances may disrupt the course we have charted from time to time. But here’s the great thing about having chosen: whether we like our decisions or not, we can always make another.

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Long Way Home

I have made two road trips in the last five days. Both were for family events, one happy, and one very sad.

My nephew (my mother’s youngest grandchild) had his First Communion on Sunday. It was a lovely occasion and a good reason to take my aging mother on a road trip. It means so much to her to spend time with her grandchildren, and some are farther away than others so we work to make that happen. Mom still drives at age 84 and does pretty well with it. She drives around her own town, and easily makes the half hour trip to my home. But anything more than an hour behind the wheel has started to make her a little nervous. So she looks for a designated driver and often that’s me.

I have no problem driving my mother places. It’s the least I can do for her. She raised five children and we ought to be good for something, right? So we help her out with a few things here and there, and I seem to be the one behind the wheel most often.

My nephew’s First Communion was about 175 miles away: about 2½ hours all on Interstate highways and pretty easy driving for me. Then, just a day before we were prepared to make that trip, my aunt passed away. She lived 250 miles away, almost five hours in the car through forest land and over a lot of mountains. So I said to my mother, “We can make both trips, but are you sure that you’re up to it?” Again, she is 84. But she was certain that she wanted to make both trips. So we did.

We had a nice time with my sister’s family, helping to celebrate her son’s big step in his religious upbringing. Then we drove home where we spent one night, before I picked her up the next morning for the longer trip to see my uncle and cousins and pay our final respects to my aunt. That trip was definitely more emotional, as it is always hard to say goodbye. My aunt was a vibrant woman with a huge heart, a sly smile, and a lilting laugh. She was my father’s only sister, and my mother’s only sister-in-law, so we were all there: my mother, my sisters, and my brother and sister-in-law. It was important to us to be there to say goodbye to our much-adored aunt, and to remind her remaining family that we will always feel connected to them even without her physical presence.

The trip home was not as easy. We took a much longer route in order to avoid torrential rains and extreme flooding in parts of central Pennsylvania. Taking this longer route left me thinking about a lot of things; mainly about how our life journeys are all different but generally lead to the same end.

The family, at Christmas 1963.  My aunt is at the front left.

The family, at Christmas 1963. My aunt is at the front left.

Most of us take the long road in life. We grow up and grow older before we even know it has happened, yet the look back sometimes feels like a long one. We sat around with my cousins after the funeral, reflecting on our times together as children and our shared experiences. My mom and my uncle chimed in here and there, recalling some details from time to time and reminding us of events we hadn’t considered.

My aunt had suffered from cancer for over a dozen years. She fought that wretched illness very hard, unwilling to leave her family any earlier than she had to. She lived to see her eldest granddaughter marry, and to see the arrival of two great grandchildren. She lived her life to the fullest, traveling and spending time with family as much as she could. She took the long way home.

My mom is doing the same thing. She wants to be with her family during this leg of her journey. For now, I am her sometimes chauffeur. And while her backseat driving really pushes my buttons, I bite my tongue and try to ignore it, because she is an octogenarian and getting closer to finding her way home. We hope it will be a long way off, but we never really know for sure.

These back to back trips were important for our family, and the events themselves are analogous to our life journeys: from beginning to end we follow our own path. And if we’re lucky, we take the long way home.