I’ll be turning 55 this month, and, as is common with me in the past few years, it’s time again to get introspective. I have been thinking about all my life, how my life has been intertwined with the lives of others, how my life’s progress has been determined by the choices I have made along the way, as well as chance circumstances that changed my course. Everyone talks about nature and nurture, and along those same lines I’d like to talk about chances and choices.
Of course, the odds of my being here at all were low. My parents had been married for 12 years and had given up (at least relatives had) on ever conceiving. Then, like a miracle, Mom became pregnant with me, and two years later, my sister was born. I was influenced by our neighborhood, our family church, and the school I attended. I was influenced by my dad’s interest in music and my mom’s ability to sew. Our annual family vacation trips instilled in me a love for history. All these experiences were basically out of my control; these were the circumstances that Life handed me in the beginning.
I made a choice one year to be a Candy Striper at Methodist Hospital. How little I realized that that decision would set my life on another course and spur my lifelong interest in the medical field - a choice that charted another course for my life. (When I went to work after I got married, I applied for an entry-level job with that hospital, and from that day on, I never had a job that was not in a hospital.)
I tried to go to college because it was what every “smart” kid was supposed to do, and it was something my parents wanted for me that they had never had. I only lasted one year at Lambuth College, and I just decided that college was not where I wanted to be.
Meanwhile, Ed James had been married for a short time, divorced, served in Vietnam, worked on his family’s farm, and had been in and out of Lambuth College so many times it seemed ridiculous. That one year I was there was one of the times Ed was there, too. The odds of our getting together were low. His family was wealthy; mine were not. He and his family were drinkers; we were teetotalers. He and his family smoked; we did not. He was not drawn to music or French or anything else I was interested in. He was crude, unorganized, and undependable. I already had a boyfriend back in Memphis. Yet --- Ed and I met and fell in love during that one year. If I had been there the year before, we would not have met. If I had been there the year after, we would not have met. That one year was the pivotal time.
Of course, the most intriguing choice in my life was our decision to move from Tennessee to Maine in 1996. We told Rachel, age 18 when we moved, that she would be going to the University of Maine, and Matt, who was 13 when we moved, was given no choice in the matter either. What has become of that move? Rachel went into teaching, fell in love with Matt’s 7th grade science teacher, and got married. Several years later, Matt fell in love with another University of Maine student and got married. Their spouses were native Mainers who had never been to Tennessee, had no reason to visit Tennessee, and undoubtedly never would have met our kids, had we stayed in Tennessee. Rachel at the time was not happy at all about the move to Maine, understandably. She had friends and a boyfriend and was not anxious to uproot her life for the unknown. “What if it’s destiny, and your future husband is waiting for you in Maine?” I asked her. She said, “It would be my luck that his mom in Maine is telling him that his future wife is in Tennessee and we’ll just pass each other on the interstate.”
Now we have 2 granddaughters born of our daughter’s marriage, who never would have existed had we stayed in Tennessee. Our choice to move has forever changed the lives of our children.
Our choice to move to Ellsworth put us right in the perfect location for our daughter to meet her husband (who taught in the Ellsworth school system, where she was student teaching). It also put me 4 blocks from the local hospital which just happened to have an opening for a medical transcriptionist the first month we were here. I had finally found my calling - the job that would use all my gifts and bring me so much satisfaction - 13 years and counting.
These are just the major life choices/chances. My life has also been enhanced by seemingly insignificant interactions that have changed me a great deal - the young lady in the church choir who got me interested in quilting, the older lady in our rural church in Tennessee who taught me all about sourdough starter, the man playing a Celtic harp in a local store at Christmas one year who got me wanting to learn harp, and other people who were just minimally involved in my life but who played a major role because they helped enlarge the scope and passions of my life.
Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if choices and chances like these had been different? I can see the threads in my life branching off just like a family tree, with each instance/choice/chance encounter giving off its own thread in a new direction, each path in life arising from the one before it - all make up the person I am today - my likes and dislikes, my achievements and failures, my joys and my regrets, my politics, my faith, my hobbies, my memories from the past and my hopes and dreams for the future.
I’m so glad things turned out the way they did. I must not rest in contentment, though. Sometimes when you get settled in life, you think the tree has stopped branching. You build your nest and think things will always be the same. Not so. The tree keeps growing, the threads keep intertwining, and life continually surprises. The choices we made years ago are still coming to fruition, and the chance encounter we have tomorrow may just change our lives in ways we never could have imagined.