My mom has been cleaning out her basement, where it seems so much of my life is still stashed away. So many boxes with stories and dreams, plans begun and abandoned, poems and musings of the heart.
Last night, after my family had dinner together, as is our Sunday tradition, I went through some of them. My brother made piles of what would be recycled and my mom kept a trash bag handy as she cautioned me against the tendency to read everything I came across, knowing I would then leave without freeing up any space.
I went through five boxes, mostly of books and papers, the occasional piece of art gifted to me somewhere along my former path as an arts and entertainment reporter, and a pair of journalism awards. As I proclaimed the end was in sight — at least for this go-round — my brother remarked, “That’s a lot of life you’ve lived.”
At 43, I would never have thought so but the truth of his words struck me as I sat with so many fragments of who I was, who I’ve become and still am and everything yet to be born.
Lately, I’ve been pondering my life’s choices, wondering sometimes where I might have been had I taken this road, followed that suggestion, chased a different dream, been more daring with what could possibly be.
In one box, I found the program for my college graduation, with my name listed under the highest honors and my Phi Beta Kapa recognition. I graduated having also won two of my university’s top writing awards and with one of my professors eagerly encouraging me to pursue an MFA in creative writing.
But I wanted to use my journalism degree, to get the experience my advisor assured me was worth more than a graduate degree, and I couldn’t have been more excited when I landed a job as the police reporter for a small-town making paper peanuts but getting a byline every day.
I don’t indulge in “What if?” fantasies very often but sometimes I wonder: “What career path would I have traveled if I’d pursued an MFA?” “What if I’d aimed for a bigger newspaper, been willing to move to another city or state instead of staying close to home?”
I saw, with every stack of the old and familiar, different choices, directions, so many streams of my life flowing together and apart.
There were the romance novels I’d begun, writing by hand with a few typed pages. I was so sure, after fervidly trading Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High novels with my girlfriends in high school before moving onto the Harlequin and Silhouette series and then discovering authors like LaVyrle Spender and Kathleen Woodiwiss, that by now I’d be among the popular ranks peddling my tales of swooning romance.
I found articles from my not-so-distant past as a journalist, where my interviews with a broad range of musicians, from the prominent to the emerging, once sparked dreams of writing for American Songwriter or Rolling Stone — a path my former editor recently still encouraged though I’ve been writing greeting cards for the last two and a half years.
There was the book penned by an Indian guru I’d once interviewed (and seen shape-shift before a gathering of his students), a copy of Mystic Pop magazine and notes from an interview for a feature with the online magazine Venuszine — all from when I tried to balance a full-time job and a part-time vocation performing wedding ceremonies with my desire to become a freelance writer.
And oh, the weddings — so many I’d forgotten about, dating back to my very first in September of 2005 and a photo of that couple, Vilna and Michael, that I’d kept from our initial meeting. As I sorted through licenses and contracts and ceremony notes, names and places came back to me — Teddy and Megan, whom I married in a lakeside ceremony in the Poconos; Ann and Nathan, who exchanged their voice on the grounds of the farmhouse where she’d grown up, with their son Jude a sweet and beaming presence between them; Barbara and Phillip, who forgave me after I got hopelessly lost on the way to their wedding at the tucked away Stonehedge Gardens in Schuylkill County, inducing no small panic…
I never imagined I’d become a wedding officiant, or that 13 years later I’d still be presiding over so many tender vows. That world wasn’t even a remote possibility when this edifying and joyful work found me and I stepped into the space that called. Months later, I would enroll in an 18-month program to become an interfaith minister (I found my class binder and ordination program in one box) and could have started my own church upon being ordained but aside from facilitating a few gatherings with fellow students and giving a handful of sermons, I pocketed the deep and profound blessing that was every moment spent immersed in the sacred, the healing and the transcendent and chose to make my walk through the world my ministry.
So many steps, so many turns. And among them, innumerable gifts. In the notes I found for the daily prayer call I once helped to lead, I remembered how much I was nurtured by that spiritual community, and the branches that emerged from it, with the gatherings my brother and I would come to not only attend but assist in co-creating.
In the folders I’d saved from the women’s circle I once sat in were words that had lifted me, helped me to reclaim and see parts of myself I didn’t even know were buried. I made some of my dearest friends in that community by embracing a powerful sisterhood that has carried me through some of my darkest times.
My life could have taken so many directions in the last two decades, spun out from any of those threads into something that might have been worlds apart from where I sit now. Yet while I occasionally ponder the shape of those other possibilities, I know I am on my path. I know there is no wavering from it, that right here, right now is where I’ve always been heading.
No matter how circuitous the journey, no matter how frequent or wildly divergent the detours, the path remains the path. What I want to do is not as important as who I am and who I want to be. That is the knowing that will unfold layer after layer of the life that’s meant for me.
There can be preparation but there’s no great planning for any of it. Expectations make hollow companions. The heart knows. The soul is primed for every transformation, the arrivals and letting go. I stay open, I let joy steer me. As much as possible, I feed love and gratitude over doubt and fear, and I remember that on any given day, being kind is always a step toward perspective, purpose, the horizon I can’t miss rising just for me.