Life is funny. It shifts and changes, and sometimes alters the course of the people we thought we’d become. Sometimes you fly, sometimes you’re brought to your knees, and sometimes it’s all you can do to take that one extra breath.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. For many of us the past year and a half has seriously altered our lives. Some of us have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost opportunities. But what we’re experiencing now won’t be this way forever, even if it seems like it. The past year aside, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all emerging creatures, and the person we were five years ago can’t possibly be the same person we are today. How can we be? We’ve lived a whole bunch in those five years – made and lost friends, loved and lost, learned, felt, experienced – and only going through those experiences can bring us in to the person we will eventually become.
I look back on my own life, and I can’t help but be surprised at how so much of me has changed, and how much is still the same. I’ve always been outspoken, usually said what I thought, loved fiercely, overthought things, and generally gone after what I wanted. But over the years, how I’ve approached things has changed, the things I thought I valued have shifted, and things I thought were rock-solid turned out to be shifting beneath my feet.
And I don’t think I could be happier.
When I was young – really young – I wanted to be a veterinarian because my next-door neighbor and best friend wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I realized that veterinarians had to put pets down, and deal with blood and guts and puke… and I didn’t want to be a veterinarian anymore.
When I was nine, I wanted to be a singer. One of my friends and I were firmly convinced that all we had to do was send a recording somewhere and we’d be on the local radio any day now. We would perform weird concerts for our parents, singing the same songs they’d heard for the hundredth time. Little matter that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket (I’m horrified by cassette tapes I found from that period). I just spent hours and hours in my room singing to the radio until I sounded okay, and maybe even good. I got to be a singer for a while, to lead bands at my church as a teenager… And then I burned out.
At seventeen, I believed it was my calling to work with teenagers, to work in a church as a youth pastor. I remember the argument with my mother – the one where I wanted her blessing to attend a four-year Bible college; she didn’t want me to bury myself in the church. I don’t think I had ever felt more misunderstood, but I also knew that I couldn’t just trot off to Bible school, spend four years and thousands of dollars, and still be angry and resentful of one of my parents. So I vowed that one day, I would go to Bible college; it just couldn’t be then, and it couldn’t be like this. And I did. I asked questions and learned and grew and made friendships that I cherish to this day. And I no longer believe it’s my job to enlighten or evangelize or persuade anyone when it comes to their faith journey.
I thought I knew what I believed. I believed God was a “he”. I believed in a Jesus who fed thousands with five loaves and two fishes, and whose words of love and justice were so radical that he died because of them. I believed in piety and purity and separateness, believing that my radical acts of self-sacrifice would make a difference in the here and now. I didn’t realize the things I “gave up for God” would cost hundreds of dollars to replace, and years of self-doubt to claim in the first place.
At twenty-three, I married. I vowed until death did us part, and I meant it. But marriage, like life, changes you. The woman I was at twenty-three wasn’t the same woman she was at thirty-four, when it became clear that a marriage couldn’t be held together by sheer force of will. Today, I am just waiting for a seriously backlogged court system to process my paperwork, and then I will no longer be legally married.
I’m still here. I’m still myself. I still say what I think, ask a zillion questions, want to understand how things work. I still want to plan things to the nth degree – like a month-long trip across the western United States – even as my own life has shown me that changes in myself and in circumstance are inevitable. Maybe the person we are today wouldn’t recognize who we were one or two or five years ago – maybe in big ways and maybe in small. We can’t go back to the formerly comforting days; we’ve all lived and learned and loved too much. We can’t keep painting pictures of a nostalgic time and place, fitting our current selves into the image, because the colours are too bright or too dark or too faded.
If we could go and tell our past selves what would happen in the future, we wouldn’t live our real lives. My former selves wouldn’t believe the person I am today. And my current self wouldn’t believe if my future self came along and told me all the things that would shift in the coming days or weeks or months or years. And maybe that’s why we have to do the best we can with whatever we have… because nothing is permanent but change.