Five years ago we celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents and my father’s whole family (picture above taken after I had bathed the children and was about to put Whit, in his red fleece footy pajamas – sob – into the car for the drive home). Grace had just turned 4 and Whit was not yet 2. I was still working at the consulting firm I spent almost 7 years with after business school. We lived in this house. One of my nieces was a baby, and the other was not born.
Where will I be in five years? I really have no idea. I will be 42. Eek. Grace will be 14 (EEEK!) and Whit will be 12. It is possible Grace will be considering leaving home for boarding school. I don’t know where we’ll be living, but if I had to guess, I’d say still in this little house (the “two years, three years, max” house we moved into in 2001). I hope I am still working in search, which is a profession I finally really like. I really, really, really hope I have written a book or articles or somehow more fully inhabited the mantle of “writer” that remains so elusive. Most of all, I hope fervently that my family remains healthy and safe, my nuclear family and also my parents, sister, and extended family of blood and of choice.
If the last five years have taught me anything at all, however, it is about the futility of a five year plan. I know how quickly the best plans can unravel. Furthermore, and more importantly, I know how even a life that unfolds exactly according to plan can still be missing something essential. That was the lesson I was just beginning to learn five years ago. When I reflect on five years ago it feels both like yesterday and like a hundred years ago (as is true of all major things I remember). Most of all, though I cannot believe the rocky, sometimes vertiginous emotional terrain I was about to embark upon. Emerson said that the “years teach us much the days never know,” and it is certainly true that now, with the perspective of years, I can look back and realize how very much I’ve learned in five years. How much I’ve learned about who I am and about what I want. I’ve mourned certain things that are lost as well as some that will never be true. I’ve celebrated other things I never dreamed I would.
And here I am. “There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” Zora Neale Hurston famously wrote. It has been a series of intense years, full of both questions and then, quickly, often startlingly, answers. I’m not naive enough to imagine that the next five years won’t hold their own set of challenges and delights, of heartbreak and sudden joy. I would like to believe that the woman the last five years have helped make me is more sturdy, less sensitive, but I actually suspect that the reverse is true. I anticipate further switchbacks, more confusion, and a continued need to trust my headlights, even if they can only see a few feet into the fog.
And so we drive on. Or beat on, boats against the current. After all, what choice do we have?
I’m adding my voice to the chorus, sharing thoughts on five years ago and five years hence, and honoring, in so doing, those whose next five years are not assured. Big Little Wolf started this, and my friends Kristen and Aidan have both participated. This effort is in support of Ashley Quinones, the “kidney cutie,” who is raising money for a life-saving kidney transplant. Please click here to learn more.