September 21, 2008

Plan, schman

I attended a bridal shower yesterday honoring a college friend. As is common at these events, the hostess asked each guest to introduce herself and tell how we knew the bride-to-be. I was the last person in the circle to have to answer, giving me plenty of time to carry the one, move the decimal and come to the conclusion that I've known the bride for 17 years. When I said that, I could see the rest of said college friends also carrying the one, moving the decimal and checking my math. They've known me a long time - checking the computation is a good idea, but gosh darn if I wasn't right this time. Whoa.

That later evolved into a discussion of "who could have guessed..." You know, the old, "is this how you thought your life would be?" topic. It's always funny to look back and think about whether you could have predicted that so-and-so would have four kids or that so-and-so would be a butt-kicking business woman or that so-and-so would run through three husbands or that so-and-so would ever choose to get married? And then, to ponder those same questions about yourself.

Is this how you thought your life would be?

My book club had a similar discussion a few months ago which actually provided an interesting contrast for me as we talked yesterday. These girls (women?!) with whom I was talking yesterday are all the same age as me and arguably, we knew/know each other well. Living in close quarters and sharing a bathroom with the same people for three years will do that for you. And, to date, in many ways our life experiences are pretty similar. Maybe that's why no one wanted to admit that where they are today isn't exactly where they might have imagined, back in the fall of 1991. When you're all doing basically the same thing maybe it would be uncomfortable for everyone for someone to say, "Nope, this is NOT what I thought my life would look like right now."

My book club is full of women with whom I have six-ish years of shared history, and our ages range from early-30s to mid-60s. I've never lived with any of these women but I do see them every month and during the two or three hours we're together, by virtue of it being a discussion-based book club, we learn a fair amount about one another. Our histories are vastly different. Some of us have never moved, some of us have done it literally dozens of times. Some of us have multiple graduate degrees, some of us don't have degrees at all. Some of us are married, some not. Some of us work outside of our homes, some of us don't. Some of us have children, some don't. Of those who do, some of us have little kids and some of us have little grandkids. We're NOT all doing the same thing at the same time.

That contrast is perhaps the explanation for how that discussion at book club was so different than the one I was part of yesterday.

My book club friends, almost without exception, said, "Nope, my life right now does not look like I imagined it would. No one's does." For many, that picture wasn't dramatically different, but a little different nonetheless. For a few, it's way different and they said so.

I left the shower yesterday and had 40 minutes in my car to think on this. I'm not sure I ever answered the question at book club because I had arrived late, and no one really answered it yesterday, just because. As I headed west I thought that if I had written out a roadmap in the fall of 1991, it would in many ways look like I hadn't followed it very closely today. I fell off plan. Maybe the wisdom of my book club was right?

Then I drove a little further and thought about what exactly would look off-plan. It's probably just the small stuff in actuality. The big stuff is probably much as I might have written it. It's not like I ever imagined a life without kids or a spouse that involved living in Timbuktu. Maybe my college friends were right?

I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle - as it usually is - and there's probably a lesson there in focusing on the big things and not the small. I imagined Norman Rockwell, I guess. I don't think I'm living a painting, but my life is probably far closer to that than not - on all but the most trying days.

I'm curious how many years will have to pass before my college friends will be able to admit that even though the plan might not ever exactly pan out, the path is just fine?


Kate and Dennis said...

I wanted to be living in a loft in Boston working in the front office for the Red Sox. But I wasn't ever the person really making a plan and sticking to it. No matter how big you dream, you should always be ok with your path. You never know where else it could lead you. I think all women at some point picture themselves with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog. Finally, at this point in my life I see it now for me too.

Rosemary said...

Serendipity, Susan. As we anticipate a BIG (as in high number) high school reunion, I've thought about how life paths cross and merge and diverge from what we anticipated, sometimes what we intended, and sometimes with surprises that are just that - unfolding possibilities. I try to be open to that. Love to you! Rosemary