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Fortunately, in the midst of expostulating about several unwelcome events in my life right now (like the recent, untimely, and–as it turns out–very expensive demise of my refrigerator only a decade into its young life), I expressed that frustration to a Ricochet friend who made a few suggestions which set me on a different path to those I’d been struggling with (thank you very much). As a result of that, here I still am, and here we go (not quite fully in line with the prescribed structure, but, as with everything else in my life it’s the best I can do, and if it’s not good enough, read no further or–as my dear departed mother would often say–“just do the other thing”).
Here it is: “If I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here.” Perhaps a variant, or just a re-statement of the more common maxim that “you can’t get there from here.”
But I know otherwise.
If I had wanted the marriage of my youthful dreams, I wouldn’t have chosen a divorced man, 16 years older than I, with three resentful children.
But, that’s what I got. Because I fell in love with him. End of story. But also the beginning. Because somehow we muddled through. Through some wonderful times and through some horrific catastrophes. Through to loving relationships on all sides, from those initially fraught with suspicion, mistrust, and dislike. Through my disappointment with the fact that I’d never be able to have children of my own, to acceptance and ultimately, grandmotherly joy. Through life’s vicissitudes. And, over the course of four decades, out the other side of all of them. Till death did we part. And here I still am.
If I had wanted the perfect house, my husband and I wouldn’t have tried to build it ourselves.
Crimenutely. Yeah. We were not flush with money in 1986, and all we could qualify for was a very small owner-builder home construction loan from a local savings and loan. So, two years after we’d found and bought an affordable piece of land carved out from what was once a large farm (easy terms, agreed to with a handshake in a field, via a private arrangement which didn’t show up on our credit report), we sold our crummy little house in Pittsburgh, went to live in a tent 40 miles away in that same field, and started construction, hoping to have things “closed in” by the time winter rolled around. (We just about made it, but it turned out to be a very good thing that, a few years prior, I’d made everyone in the family nice warm sleeping bags from some ripstop nylon and several down pillows we bought on clearance at Penney’s for $7 each–funny, the things one remembers.) It was a time when “DIY” stores were pretty thin on the floor and in order to make it easier to buy the materials, the two of us incorporated as general contractors for a time so we could buy things wholesale from the professionals. The possibility for mistakes and disaster were rife, and the consequences of some of our initial bad decisions lasted, and had to be lived with, for decades.
And boy howdy, we lived with them. until such time as we could, one-by-one, afford to re-do and fix them (a project which goes on to this day). We thought, going in, that the opportunity to have a few acres in hand, and a small farm with a few animals for my stepson Michael to care for and enjoy, totally justified what many thought was our reckless, or just plain crazy, behavior. (And it did. This was not one of our bad decisions.) Now Mr. She is gone. And Michael is gone. And here I still am.
If I’d wanted a career in information technology at a senior management level, I wouldn’t have started out with a degree in English Literature (1976) from Duquesne University.
But I did. And over the course of the next few years, I took every opportunity, and every occasion I could to find my calling and make a success of my professional life. Sometimes, you’re just in the right place at the right time. And, when you are, and when you find yourself at that fork in the road, you should take it. In 1980, that fork, for me, was an emerging career path, one which came to be called “end-user support” for people using technology in the business environment. Companies were hiring articulate spokeswomen (yes, in almost every case, women) to train, explain and assist other women (in almost every case), mostly secretaries and administrative assistants, in using the new “word processor” computers that were starting to appear on their desks. No-one, least of all me, imagined where that technology would go over the next 30 years, how important it would become, or what I’d be doing when I retired.
Although I do remember, during my second interview (1990) for the first job I took at the hospital where I would work for twenty years, telling Jack, who was in charge of mainframe hardware, programming, and operations, that one day his mainframe would make a nice little node on “my” network. (He’d just made a joke about what “toys” personal computers were.) And yet they still hired me. A job I loved, working with, and for, people I loved. And, when I retired in 2010 (Jack and I retired on the same day), my prediction had come to pass. (I’m not super-good at seeing into the future, so when I get it right, I like to point that out.)
The fact of the matter, my peeps, is that, in almost every case, you can get “there” from “here.” Sometimes, you have to go the long way around the rosebush to do it. Sometimes, you have to be willing to make a few wrong turns, or take a couple of unintended or unexpected detours. Sometimes, you have to accept your limitations and ask for help, and see if others are willing to give you a boost or a shove (hopefully in the right direction and not down the drain). Sometimes you have to trust. Sometimes you have to pray. And always, you have to work at it and want it.
A few months ago, I finished reading My Grandfather’s Son, the autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (I’d already read, some years ago, Dr. Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands.) And whenever I think I’m in danger of injuring myself by too much back-patting and self-pity about the struggles I’ve had and the obstacles I’ve overcome, I spend a few salutary moments thinking about these two men and about the superhuman, and in some ways still ongoing, struggle they had to get to “here” from their initial “there,” and of the grace and triumph of the human spirit they displayed in doing so. And I feel very humble indeed.
It’s never easy. Sometimes, for people in straitened circumstances and in difficult situations, it can seem impossible. And that’s why we should pay attention to, and learn from, role models like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson, and pay attention to, and learn from, those in our own lives and families–present and past–who’ve persisted and overcome. It’s never easy. And if it is, then there are probably questions that should be raised in Parliament to find out why it was. Because, it’s too easy, something’s likely wrong.
But is it worth it?
I’ve always thought so.
I get a bit squirrely sometimes when I talk to the very young (anyone under about 40 these days), and I listen to how they’re meticulously planning their life. How they can’t possibly afford marriage yet, or perhaps ever. How they can’t possibly afford children yet, or perhaps ever. How their entire careers are already mapped out and inevitable. How they never want to buy a house and put down roots, but prefer to rent and move as the fancy takes them. How they’ve got every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed in their lifetime plan, every play-date, extracurricular activity, and social interaction carefully managed and crafted, and the appropriate college picked out before Junior’s second birthday. How no-one, in the history of humanity, has ever faced the challenges they face, and how very, very careful they have to be in surmounting them lest they or something in their lives veer off course the least little bit…
I get a bit squirrely because I know that “the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley,” and that sometimes, too much planning and too much reliance on the premise that I know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing 20 years from now can lead to serious repercussions when things don’t pan out as expected. (“Man plans. God laughs.”) And because I know that once one’s dotted as many “I’s” and crossed as many “T’s” as one can in life, and when it’s time to get to the next “there,” sometimes the best, the most uplifting, the most affirming, and the most human thing that a person can do after rationally considering the alternatives and thinking it through is to take a deep breath, close her eyes, and jump. The chips will fall where they may, and there she’ll still be, figuring it out and making it work, just as her ancestors did for thousands of years before she arrived on the scene.
I jumped. Mostly, somebody, something, or some form of grace intervened and caught me. There were, to be sure, a few “splats,” from which I had to “pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.” That’s a part of life too, right?
But here I still am. My life is by no means perfect. And yet. The garden is pretty, the roses smell lovely, the sheep are shorn (although they do not smell quite so lovely), the hay’s in the barn, the siding on the house is (almost) finished, the new bathroom is underway, my neighbors are keeping an eye on me, I’m reasonably healthy, those I love are taking care of themselves and are staying safe, my granddaughter is in seventh grade and has just announced that she’d like to spend more time with her granny, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful world.
And right now I can’t think of anywhere else, anything else, or anyone else, I’d rather be or do. And I can’t think of anyone I’d want to change places with, not for love nor money.
Well, maybe for love.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:10Published in