The roads we take
Searching for something in my basement, I recently came across a diary of mine, describing a plan and time in my life, that I had forgotten- it was to enroll in the University of Florence, in Italy. While I do remember making plans with a classmate to go to Florence to teach English, and we had an apartment reserved and everything, I had forgotten the other part of this. Just weeks before finding this diary I was actually walking around Florence, the day before I was returning to the US from my artist residency, as I was searching for an art supply store that I never found, but ended up standing in front of a large formal building that had a sign on it, "University of Florence".
Throughout our lives we are presented with many situations where decisions must be made....decisions that alter the course and direction of our, and often others, lives. So much suffering in life I think stems from our view of these events in dualistic terms...setting ourselves up for some abstract disappointment that has no ground, for example, in thinking that one choice is the "right" choice" while the other is "wrong". Certainly we will find ourselves in those scenarios in our lives, for example as a child a friend dares you to hurt someone or steal something- but really the vast majority of choices we are presented with, fall in a big grey zone, or we can even find ourselves having to make one of two terrible choices, more often than great ones. This is real, adult life.
I did not go to Florence, Italy when I was 22 years old- instead I met a man, right after graduating from college, fell in love, and decided together to take what we saw was a bigger risk, and go to Japan, to live and teach English. Whatever the life was that I would have found going to Italy, became another, going to Japan. And I am no longer with that man.
Some people might read this and think, what incredible, privileged choices to have to make. And yes, they were! But at the same time, truth is, I was broke. I was not being supported by anyone, and if we had dependents it would have never happened, so getting there meant working and scraping together every cent we could to buy a ticket, and then when arriving, finding work, urgently. Unfortunately it was not as easy as we'd hoped, and naively we did not worry much about immigration, work visas, in a country that was pretty strict about these things. After a number of cash advances on a credit card we had, in the nick of time, we started working...
Backing up though, something in me was so ambitious and determined to make these things happen. I knew my parents married early, my grandparents even earlier, and I came from immigrant families, where the women, despite whatever intelligence and creativity they possessed, were weighed down heavily with the responsibilities of families, children, and having to work very hard to establish themselves in a country that was dominated by WASP culture and power. Early on, creative and firey, I was determined to live my life on my own terms, and while certainly greatly moved by love, I was set on not surrendering my creative passions, to too much early domestic responsibility.
So I made choices, some very painful, to stay committed to what I perceived as my own integrity, and evolution. Older now, I can imagine where other choices could have led me. Wiser now, I don't look at the different potentials as necessarily being better, or worse. Would I have done anything differently? Well, it doesn't work that way. You can't change the past with present insight. Would I have advised my younger self differently? No, because I had to learn the way I did. But I have a few things I have learned, things I think about a lot. One is, there are no short cuts in life, just detours. You can't skip the lessons you have to learn, and trying to bypass them makes them hit back at double force. And hiding things from yourself will hurt not only you, and other people more, than just being direct in the first place.
So now at midlife, where I have been feeling more and more urgency to express myself authentically, added with the big clock ticking in the sky, I am called to dig deeper to work on shedding my bad habits, fears, and the things that have held me back from my fullest potential. I keep having to make choices. And while I found life in my 20s quite difficult- a feeling of being overwhelmed by so many different choices, and the power of my peers' choices so greatly influencing mine, middle-age life is a completely different animal. There is great challenge- this time of your life does not mess around- but it is a very rich time in spirit, expression and emotion, and it is also a time for me, at least, of feeling tremendous appreciation and gratitude for life and people, and how beautiful the world can be. I consider myself very lucky, to be here, this endless mystery, and work in progress....