See You In Another Life — Grieving Old Lives, Lives Not Lived and Dreaming Our Future Lives into Being
I am barely twenty one years old, and I am leaning into the window of the plane (I always choose the window seat), to see, for the first time in my life, the island of Manhattan. A ridiculous swath of skyscrapers, the big green splotch of Central Park, the Statue of Liberty. I’m not in the know with words like Upper East Side or Chelsea or Soho. But I see it as a three dimensional map of adventure. Of humanity. Of life. It is the sound of the SNL saxophone. It’s Paul Simon singing “Late in the Evening.” It’s glamour and dirt. I love it and I haven’t even landed.
I am on a journey that seems both destined and totally improbable. I am a girl from the Midwest. I’ve never been on vacation anywhere but the Lake of the Ozarks and Florida. I’ve never eaten in an Indian restaurant. I’ve never had a friend whose second language in English. I’ve never been overseas. This is why the trip seems improbable. Yet, here I am being flown to New York City to stay in the Waldorf-Astoria for one night, attend a fancy event, and be flown the next day to Washington, D.C. for a ceremony where Lady Freedom will be helicoptered over the Capital and placed, having been reguilded, at her rightful place on top of the dome. This all to hang out with a friend of mine. A boy friend, but not boyfriend. A maybe in the future friend. A you should probably think about marrying this guy friend. A I’m not ready for this friend.
When I land at the Laguardia airport, I’ve been instructed on getting a cab and I do it, as I do a lot of things. Acting as if I’m not scared, as if I know what I’m doing, until I am not scared and I know what I’m doing. Getting my purse settled and coat next to me in the back seat, I look out at the grey, low sky. The speed, smell of the people, city, cars, buildings, the general mutedness of the colors and vague dirtiness of all the people and machines working, working, working. It is all exactly as I imagined. Both how it looks and how it feels. I’ve never carried something in my imagination before that turns out to be so exactly and also more exactly than I imagined. I love it. I light a cigarette in the backseat, as I hurtle toward Park Avenue, because this is what you do in New York City, sophisticated things, gritty things, risky things. This is where I am destined to be. This is someplace — what does it feel like? As if I’d been here before.
I am sure you’re not surprised to know that I ended out dating this young man for awhile.
It’s a funny thing that happens when you are in a relationship at a young age. Maybe at any age? My dreams got mixed up with his dreams. I forgot about New York City and how much I loved it. He was from the East Coast and had a life in Washington, D.C. When I moved to D.C. after college and we started dating, for that chapter of my life, I made D.C. my dream, and all the things that I imagined in a life with him there, fitting into his life. As young people do, we broke up. I re-imagined my dreams, but somehow felt that NYC was beyond me at the ripe old age of 24.
When we are young, we all have big and little ideas, plans, hopes, and dreams of what our lives might be like. And inevitably we make certain choices. Going to social work school and being a therapist in private practice was definitely one of my dreams. I am living that. I don’t live someone else’s dream of a life in D.C. But I also don’t live one of my dreams of some kind of adventure in New York City.
I hear the wistfulness of clients who feel certain paths are closed to them — the man who dreamed of being a pilot, but gave that up for a more ‘practical’ career that allowed him to be more available for family. The woman who didn’t marry her adored college sweetheart because she thought she was too young, but wonders if that would have been a happier life than the marriage she ended up in. The woman who never pursued her theater career because she became a mother and pursued the dream of family life instead. I think, by middle age, we all have versions of our life that we we realize are closed to us. They are in the past.
Another way our dreams or versions of our life can end is through life events that are not of our choosing — a divorce, a death, a sick family member. I have a friend who got divorced in the past year and he said, “It was like I had a painting that was almost complete — like a paint by numbers and many of the colors were filled in. It wasn’t done, but I knew what it would look like. When my wife wanted a divorce, the whole painting got ruined. I don’t know what life is going to look like now.” I think of that painting as their shared dream. The dream of the life and family you have with that one person. In a divorce or death, that version of your life has to change whether you want it to or not.
During the time my marriage was ending, I felt much the same thing. I would pray out loud, sobbing to God, “I don’t want this.” I just wanted my life I had. It was like a temper tantrum with God — make this go away! But as time has gone on, I feel differently. Another friend of mine used to call me “Picket Fence Katy” very shortly after my divorce — teasing me that I better get married again because he saw me as a ‘picket fence type.’ I laughed, but I also had something that was a secret to even me in those early months. I know that I look like a Picket Fence Katy, but I also know I have a New York City Katy in me. When my ‘painting’ got torn up at the end of my marriage, I began to see that I have many dreams, still. There are several versions of what my life might be that feel joyful and beautiful to me.
I have a bias — which is that I see things through a lens of grief. As we begin a new year, as 2018 gets under way, many of us take stock of where we are at. What we want to begin, begin again, or things we want to stop in our lives all together. If there are versions of our life that we are wistful for, I think we need to acknowledge and grieve them. Grieving them means allowing ourselves to feel sad and even angry. It also means we need to be clear with ourselves where we made choices.
Acknowledging our choices keeps us from becoming bitter. So, take stock — did I make those choices for me or did I make them for someone else? If I consistently make choices that sacrifice what I dream for my life, what toll is that taking on me? What else can I imagine? When I look back on my life at the 85 years old, what do I want to see? Am I doing those things? If there are pursuits like being a pilot or an artist or a BBQ champion, are those things really closed to me just because I’m over 30? What can I do to make my life MINE and how can I do it in a way that I feel integrity with myself?
On my most recent trip to New York City with my sister and mom to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday, we were walking down Broadway to see a show. Typically, my sister led the pack — she is from the East Coast now and walks fast and purposeful. I lagged behind at the back, looking around at all the people. Still mesmerized by the beauty of all that humanity. A street musician came up to me — he had dreadlocks and a guitar. “Hey, hey,” he said. “Hi,” I smiled probably shyly — I know I’m supposed to me careful of people in the big city.
“Come listen to me play.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m going to a show.” My mom and sister had slowed down, my sister looking back and rolling her eyes — she is like “Here’s my Midwest sister talking to someone on the street again.”
The guys looks ahead at them, “Aw, c’mon. Just for a few minutes.”
“Nah, I can’t — I have to go.”
He looks straight into my eyes — “You. Me. Another life.” He smiles. I smile.
“Another life.” I say and walk away.
Hello, 2018. We are here. We have choices before us. We have lives to lead. Some paths are closed, and that may be sad, but it is okay. More paths are open than you may let yourself see. This is the time to let yourself see them, this is the time to take some risks and make your life your own. And if you hear the opening music to Saturday Night Live in the background, it’s no accident. That’s my dream of the future, turned up really loud.
To shift gears — I’ve had a blog on blogger for about 7 years. It’s a popular little blog with friends, family and clients and gets shared primarily in my community — usually between 400 and 1500 folks. But, I am working on a book about grief and life and it’s kind of a mixed up memoir and self help book and I think it’s coming along well and will be interesting and funny and good. I am hoping to reach a larger audience here and see where it takes me.
The beginning of this blogpost today is actually the beginning of one of the chapters of my book, so you continue to get a flavor for what I’m working on.
Thanks for your reading!
All my best,