After our meal of elastic chicken and all-white food, including mashed potatoes, honey-dripped spongy cauliflower, and clumpy, overly salted gravy, we moved upstairs where a DJ was playing all the hits of the 1970s. I slowly found my way to a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of the house wine.
"There you are!" came a familiar voice, followed by a hearty hug from behind. "I was looking for you. I am so eager to hear all about you and your life!"
Jane was a childhood friend, who, I had learned through the world of Facebook, had lived abroad with her military husband for the past several years. We had walked to school together as children, and our paths had ebbed and flowed over the course of high school and college. Our friendship was anchored in childhood simplicities, easy laughter, and a ready acceptance of one another over the years.
"Oh, Jane, it is so good to see you! Tell me all about you!" With The Very Best of The Commodores blaring in the background, we swapped stories and belly laughed for more than an hour, oblivious to what was going on around us. After some lubrication by equal doses of unconditional love and house wine, Jane gingerly said to me: "Kristin, I know you have not married. I just want you to know how much I admire you for following your heart and living the life you chose to live. That takes a lot of courage. You know, you always did chart your own path. I have always respected your ability not to feel the need to do what everyone else was doing just to fit in and be like everyone else."
As I soaked in this unsolicited compliment and unintended affirmation from a person who had known me from the time I was in elementary school, I felt my body relax and my soul lighten. I had been seen and heard for who I was, and I had just been authentically acknowledged. My heart filled with gratitude for the unspoken familiarity and unequivocal support of a lifelong, loyal friend.
Being seen is a powerful force, and imagined perceptions are not always reality. The story I had insecurely written in my mind could not have been further from the truth. The reality was that our class was just as diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, and marital status as the adult paths we had ended up taking. As many classmates shared about their successful careers as those who shared their professional challenges. Others told stories of marriages, divorces, adoptions, and birth children. As I listened to their wonderfully disparate accounts of life, I realized how insignificant choosing not to marry was. It was reaffirmed that evening that each of us had lived lives of our choosing, and the allure of our uniqueness was undeniable. As I left the reunion, I was filled with appreciation for the gift of old friends and the beautiful realization of the unique contributions each of us had made through our distinctive and original lives.
FROM WHERE I SIT
Class reunions are self-imposed bookmarks that we place as we write the stories of our lives. Unlike newly acquired acquaintances, those friends who have known us since our youth are able to shine an unfiltered light on the experiences that formed our foundations. As each 10-year reunion passes, we are confronted with changing internal and external observations from those who knew us back when. If we choose, we can grow and evolve through these observations.
Society often places conventional expectations in our path. Marriage is only one such expectation; there are numerous others. In the years following that particular reunion and, specifically, my conversation with Jane, my deep dive into life's meaning and the power of my choices continued. We have the powerful ability to decide when and how to participate, and thereby ultimately create the life we desire. These decisions are breath by breath, and are not just about the big stuff like marriage. Every single day in life brings a bounty of opportunities to share, contribute, support, empathize, and love. Life is made up of the little stuff—the seats in which we sit, the conversations we have, the emotions we feel. The "little stuff moment" can often hold empowering mirrors into which we can reflect.
As I grow older, I sense a hovering eulogy waiting to be written about my life. I wonder about the choices I have made. How did I end up where I am today? Where am I heading into the future? One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor, compares life and our choices to a sailboat ride: "Every day, you have to see where the wind is and check the currents and see if there's anybody else on the boat with you who can help out. [Life] is a sailboat ride—the weather changes and the currents change and the wind changes."
What a beautiful and empowering analogy. We have the ability to raise and lower our sails, pending the warm breezes or turbulent storms life brings us. We have the gift of those who are lifelong passengers on the same boat, or those just crossing the bay with us, to help along the way.
I SAVED THIS SEAT FOR YOU
What is the theme of the life story you are writing?
What have you learned through the bookmarks placed in your life?
What is the reflection in your life's mirror?
Choices are the hinges of destiny.
This excerpt ends on page 20 of the hardcover edition.