I’m having a hard time grabbing onto my life. It circles the baggage carousel and I can spot it coming, but I can’t get a good grip and haul it off the circling stainless steel. My fingertips brush against the handle, but it’s just too heavy and I can’t lift it before it slips past.
When I was young, I thought my life would take an entirely different direction. As a young girl, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was inspired by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series of books. My dad and stepmom thought a stint working at a goat farm would be further inspiration, but the proprietor of the farm dimmed my youthful passion. She was a gray-haired hippie who thought nothing of leaving me in a pen of baby goats with a sharp implement and directions to trim their hooves. She sheared the goats in her kitchen, wearing only her big white granny-underpants and a t-shirt. Plus, I had to ride my twelve-speed bike through hilly undeveloped land to reach her farm. The ride alone took over an hour, as I recall.
My parents didn’t ever let me take the easy way. I had to bum a ride when I worked as a hospital volunteer. No one would pick me up or deliver me to this altruistic job. When I wanted clothes, I had to buy them myself. I remember riding my bicycle to school on a day when the roads were coated with ice. (I fell.) I grew up in the most isolated family you can imagine. When we returned home from school to an empty house, my brother and sister and I retreated to our separate rooms for the rest of the afternoon. It’s no wonder that I filled my spare time with volunteer jobs and activities.
I was searching for someplace where I mattered. I wanted to help and I wanted my presence to make a difference.
That’s why I decided I’d be a doctor. I had the grades and the brain-power to accomplish that goal, but I lacked the familial support and the sensible direction from school officials. No one advised me where I ought to attend college. No one encouraged me to pursue any particular academic path. My dad, at that point, was still trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. I felt like I was very much on my own. I’ve always felt that way.
I went to Bible college because I thought God would love me more if I gave up something. So I gave up my dream of being a doctor and plunged into the isolated world of an Assemblies of God Christian college. I found the classes to be full of subjectivity–I couldn’t earn perfect grades anymore because the linear style of academics had turned into a whirl of opening prayers and rambling lectures and material that didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. The longer I attended, the less I saw the world as it really was. My view of the world blinked open only occasionally. Mostly, it shrank to the size of our campus, where I was isolated without a car. The longer I was there, the less I felt like I could ever leave. I loved it. I hated it. I loved it more.
I trusted less in myself–I trusted in myself not at all, really–and more in the institution and the denomination and God as I understood Him to be.
And so I graduated with a degree worth nothing and an engagement ring on my finger.
The only smart choice I’ve made was to marry my husband. He’s a remarkable man, a fine companion for this journey on earth. But still, my life doesn’t resemble anything I pictured.
For one thing, I never imagined a world in which my father did not exist. Yet, he died when I was 24. I never considered that planning my family would be a challenge. And yet, motherhood didn’t unfold as I expected. Infertility, adoption of twins, two unexpected pregnancies . . . nothing as I planned.
I’m not the mother I expected to be. That mother was perky and cute and patient under all circumstances. That mother had children who listened quietly and obeyed promptly. That mother taught her children to play the piano and read long stories before bed to children who smelled of Ivory soap and homemade sugar cookies. That mother had a circle of friends who stopped by with fragrant pumpkin bread and telephoned for no reason at all and got together to make crafts and drink coffee. That mother drank coffee.
I don’t even drink coffee. I’m nothing that I thought I would be.
Which is disappointing in so many ways. I thought my life would be like a poem, words sewed together with precision and care. Instead, it’s like a Scrabble board, words awkwardly shoved together just because I found a “U” to go with the “Q.” And I have too many vowels and no “R” and my next move depends on the other player.
So, my life circles around, a haphazard jumble of letters, two metaphors mixed up in an airport full of Scrabble players, I guess. I’m not what I thought I would be and I’m not yet sure I’ll be what I think. I’m poised at the starting line at that hopeful place before beginning when failure is not yet possible. (You can’t fail if you don’t start.)
That’s the view from the kitchen table on a Friday night as I watch my life circle back around, just waiting for me to grab it this time around.