Occasionally when I get homesick for my childhood home of Memphis I seek out the Facebook pages and personal blogs of gals I grew up with — acquaintances but not necessarily anyone who was every within my circle of close friends. There’s a loose theme to all of their lives. They either stayed in Memphis for college or went away for college (probably not too far though) and immediately returned upon graduation. They got married not too long after returning. They have kids now, or are about to have their first kid.
I was never one to think ahead in my life too much, which I suppose might be more of a blessing than it seems in that I rarely have dreams that don’t get fulfilled. I majored in journalism at a college that was nearly six hours away from Memphis, and when I did occasionally think ahead in my life during the early days of college, I’d envision returning to Memphis upon graduating and working for a magazine there or the local alt-weekly newspaper.
That vision was mostly fleeting, and any chance of me being a magazine writer probably died when I decided not to pursue a magazine internship in New York following my sophomore year in college. The application was due not long after 9/11 happened, my parents weren’t keen on the idea of New York at that point and it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time to just drop it. I found other, non-magazine internships and they paved the way for the path I eventually followed after school. That path never led me back to Memphis.
So when I get homesick for Memphis, I envision a life there where I substitute my acquaintances’ life stories as played out on their Facebook pages and blogs for what would have been my own life story there (I realize their lives may have nothing in common with what my life would be in Memphis, it’s just what my brain does). I read about their playdates and their lives as stay-at-home moms or teachers or nurses and their suburban houses and have a twinge of grass-is-always-greener sadness or envy, even though I’m very much in love with the life I lead right now (well, maybe except for the semi-frequent frustrations with my job, but I love my soon-to-be husband, my Knoxville home and the life we lead).
I’ve mentioned A Practical Wedding on this blog before, and I may have even already linked to this post about the road not taken. It’s such a brilliant post that I think it’s imperative that everyone (you don’t have to be a woman or married or even interested in marriage for it to be a brilliant post) read it. We’re all familiar with Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and the idea that we make decisions in our lives that lead us down certain paths and lead us away from other paths, never to return. And the point of the post is this: the path we decide to follow may make us blissfully happy and be the right path for us, but we should still take time to mourn the path we don’t choose, as it represents a tiny death of opportunity in our life.
Some excerpts that continue that point:
I’m writing this because I believe we need to give each other permission, and perhaps more importantly we need to give ourselves permission, to mourn the path not taken. The one that might have been amazing, but for good and true and happy reasons, we didn’t choose. We need to know that it is ok to joyfully head into marriage, while simultaneously taking some days or weeks of quiet time to lay to rest the life we are leaving behind. We can choose confidently to have children, or not have children, and be equally confident about sharing how hard that choice was, and how we might wonder what the other life might have been like. We can embrace our decision to move across the country for a new job, while crying for the family we left behind. We should be able to share our frustrations with this week or month or year of marriage, while in the same breath, saying how grateful we are for our partner. This mourning, these tiny deaths– they don’t mean that you aren’t sure. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t choose what was right for you and your family. What it means is that you are human, and that you are able to acknowledge both the happy and the hard nuances of life.
I think this is what my heart is subconsciously doing when it pushes me toward those acquaintances’ photos and writings. I have no desire for children at this point in my life, and see no way children would even fit into our lifestyle at the moment. I like living in Knoxville. I like the fact that my life has led me on a curvy, windy path to get exactly where I am today and I relish the accomplishments and heartbreaks I’ve experienced along the way.
I do not regret my path, and yet, just as Frost sighs as he’s recalling the roads diverged in a wood, I still feel the urge to mourn the loss of this lifestyle that seems so opposite of mine.