This afternoon I went out to lunch with James, an old friend from high school who I hadn’t seen or talked to in twenty years. We had a great time catching up, and as we talked I realized that I’d managed to condense twenty years into maybe five minutes—probably less—in answer to the obligatory question that we all ask when we’ve not seen someone for ages: “what have you been up to?” I told James how I had joined the Navy, that I was stationed in Bremerton, married a sailor, moved to Florida, then Puerto Rico, dissolved my marriage after two years, moved back to Seattle. Went to college, moved to Oregon, got my master’s degree. Came back to Seattle, found a job I love and have been there ever since.
Those are the highlights and, having written them, I can see that there are three clusters, or maybe three stages of my life, at least as far as significant endeavors go.
Throughout our conversation, I would occasionally tell James a bit about other things that had happened over the course of those years. Pursuing a life as far away from the South as I could get and discovering that the further I stayed away, the less I wanted to return to the South. Making my own choices in regard to culture, geography, lifestyle, religion. I pointed out major events and themes, and he did the same. (And I feel the need to tell you that I am so glad our worldviews are similar. It was wonderful to chat with someone who agrees that the South is a terrible place—for us, anyway.)
James and I didn’t talk much about high school. I don’t think either of us had a need to reminisce much. Instead we focused on who we are now. I was glad for that; I honestly don’t have many memories of high school.
After lunch, I walked back to my car along the Elliott Bay waterfront. I felt at home and at peace with my life. I was satisfied with the story I’d told James, but I realized that there were a hundred gaps in my story, a hundred things I’d left out—some for the sake of brevity, some because they’re just not things to share with a person you haven’t seen in twenty years, some that I just didn’t think to share. And so I started making a mental list of my life’s accomplishments.
Before I began this post, I started writing that list. My goal was to list 100 things I’ve done or accomplished in my life. And, since I think of my life as beginning when I left the South when I was 20, I started with college, then the Navy. I stopped at number seventeen and deleted it all. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t make a list of highlights.
It’s not so much that I couldn’t think of 100 things; that part is easy. But what things should go on that list? Do I point to successes? Ticks on a timeline? Significant or insignificant things? And who, then, might deem these things significant?
Why should it matter if I make this list? Why should it matter to me, or anyone, for that matter? And if I am to limit the list to 100 items, which things would I leave off?
So I’m left thinking about what things I’ve done that matter most. What have I done that has helped me become who I am? What defines my essence? I have spent a lot of time lately contemplating what I’ve done in the last seven and a half years, specifically why has it taken me until now to get to this point where I am comfortable with my world and assured enough to live a complete and meaningful life. I feel as though I have missed out on a lot. I am nearing 40. I am single. I do not own a house. I haven’t published much. I have not traveled or had many grand adventures.
And suddenly I am ready to change all of these things.
It interests me that one (rather impromptu) meeting with an old friend can bring up all of these thoughts. And I find myself trying to connect this to all of the things I’ve written about lately—what we share, what we hold close to.
But maybe it is enough that these considerations exist. Maybe it is enough that I have, if I want, the ability to reflect on a lifetime of milestones, to live the life I have lived, to consider these events and themes and to point to them when I tell my story. To hold them in my hand like pebbles, to consider their size and shape and color and weight and know that each of these things is mine and has brought me here, to this exact moment.