All of us have phases in our lives … periods of our lives we remember for what we were doing (School? Jobs?) or where we were living, or what was happening in our family or who was important (for good or for bad) in our lives at different moments.
Some phases blend into each other, and can be separated only in retrospect. Others are distinct. (A graduation. The end of a job or relationship. An illness or death.) We can think through the good parts, the bad parts, the things we wish we could change … and the things we’re grateful for, or are just glad we survived.
One of those times for thinking back is the end of life. I’ve cared for two people who were dying (my mother and my husband,) and both of them went through that process. Some of their thoughts and memoires they shared with me. Others they preferred to keep private.
My life can be easily divided. K-12 school, undergraduate college, living in Greenwich Village while attending graduate school and working full-time, my first marriage, my jobs at AT&T, being transferred to the Jersey suburbs, adopting my four children and helping others who also wanted to adopt, moving to Maine, writing fiction, and marrying the man I’d always loved. Those divisions are facts.
Emotional divisions would be different.
Because, of course, each of those phases had its highs and its lows. So, focusing on the positives, I decided to think back and isolate what days, what moments, of my life I was most happy. That doesn’t mean I was unhappy on all the other days. But a few days stand out as high points. Some of mine were ….
- As a senior in high school, being editor of my high school newspaper and having that newspaper, which had been hated by many in my town, being named the best high school newspaper in New Jersey by the Scholastic Press Association.
- As a senior in college, having two of my poems win the national Story Magazine competition and be praised by judge Marianne Moore.
- Moving to New York City.
- Flying to Indianapolis representing my company’s headquarters on my first business trip – and being the first woman in that role.
- The days I first heard about each of my four daughters … and the days I met them.
- Passing my doctoral comprehensives.
- The day I stepped in at the last minute to replace someone, spoke to a large audience … and got a standing ovation. (I was speaking about adopting older children.)
- The day an editor in New York contacted me out of the blue and asked me to write an autobiography. (I chose not to.)
- The day I finished writing my first full book — a mystery.
- Days in both adolescence and as an adult when I rowed my skiff on the Sheepscot River in Maine, getting close to herons and other birds.
- The day I was offered a contract for my first book to be published.
- The day – a year after it was submitted – that the first book I’d written sold. And, a year later, that book’s being nominated for a “best first mystery” Agatha Award.(Note: my first book written and first book published were not the same book!)
- After ten years apart, the day Bob and I reconnected. (We married 18 months later.)
- Bob and I dancing together in a Paris park. A band was playing, but no one else was dancing.
- Taking trips to Italy, India, Scotland, and Charleston, South Carolina by myself. (Two trips re: my children and two re: research for my books.)
As I look at that list I realized one major thing. Although other people were involved in many of those days, most of the things on my list were personal accomplishments or events.
Most of my life I was single, and, although there were times when I was lonely, most of the time I didn’t mind being alone, having moments I wasn’t always supporting or caring for the people I loved, and putting their needs first. That doesn’t negate the joy I found in parenting, or the incredible love, emotional support and happiness I was given for the first time during the fifteen years Bob and I were married. It meant caring for myself brought its own rewards.
That insight was a realization that helped me put my whole life in perspective.
If I could, would I change any part of my life? No. I made decisions that were right for me at the time, even when others questioned them. Yes, there were things I would have liked to have done that I haven’t done. But no one can do everything.
I’ve accomplished most of my major goals. It’s been a good life.
And, bottom line, I have no regrets.
I hope you can say the same about your life.