Leo and I met up with our daughter and family for dinner one evening. Somewhere between the bread and salad courses, my 10, soon to be 11, year old grandson asks, “Oma, if you could go back in your life and change something, what would it be?” While I am quickly gathering my thoughts, he then asks, “And, if you could go back and visit a time, what would it be?” Time to catch a breath. Both questions begin to get jumbled so my son – in – law carefully parses out the two questions giving me more time to reflect and sort through my life. The wait person catches my eye as she walks back to the kitchen with a big, mouthed, “OH, WOW!”
Now, the easy way out would have been to say, I would have painted my house blue instead of green. The boy would have been happy. They love to play the game, would you rather… But, never one to loose a moment of intimacy or teaching,… My first response is philosophical. “It is challenging to think of changing something when everything I have lived through has brought me to now,” I say, buying me more time. Finally, I tell Oscar, “I promise. I will get back to you. I just need more time to think.”
This morning I wrote Oscar. First, If I could go back and change something, I would learn how to be a better dog owner. We bought Yoshi, our West Highland Terrier, sometime after the death of our infant daughter, when our then 7 year old daughter was begging for a dog, The dog was meant to be a grief dog which she lived up to by being a lot of grief and, I have to say, fun and comfort for the kids for a while. Both Leo and I are pretty ignorant of dogs not having grown up with trained house dogs. Yoshi was weaned too young the vet stated and would be a handful as she had not had her mother’s training and the other pups long enough to learn. The name she came with, Sugar Bear Tough Stuff, should have tipped us off. We renamed her Yoshi and did our best. She won out and ruled the house.
I am going to claim two with this question. The house we chose to buy on Princeton and live in was not meant for me. I did not know I was allergic to cats until we moved into our new home which had housed many furry critters. Along with the cats, we add dust, mold and mildew, the death of an infant daughter, a life of 13 homes in 27 years, years of military, Vietnam, living apart, many moves, law school, and the birth of three children. It all took its toll on our marriage and my health and change was required. All of these major events led me down a long path of ill health, in that house.
Oscar’s second question was easier, I would love to go back to a time and visit my parents. It warms my heart and makes me smile to think so. I would enjoy that visit.
And yet, that will not happen in this world. These are questions of a young searching mind. The question of “What would I change.” leads us to our stories of our internal/external conflicts. We all know them in greater or lesser degree. We live with our own inner battles of a conflicted mind, bodies with illness, disease, relationships with people or work that create the inner dialogue of dissatisfaction.
I consider the decade of the 80’s my “de-construction years”. The stripping away years. Down to the bones years. The 90’s were re-construction years and the new millennium brought relief. The 80’s and 90’s were the two decades in the Princeton home. The home that was a catalyst for so much change and turmoil was also the home that was stable enough to allow it all to happen. This home was our nest. The beautiful years of raising our children, meeting new friends, life adventures that helped to form all of us in amazing ways. And, it all happened simultaneously.
It is a good exercise to make a time line of your life. Where are the points of a traumatic event, a loss, a major change. Mark those and then what were the in-between years like. The years of change, adjustment, being stripped away. Then start to fill in the points where you met a key person in your life. Had a life changing moment that caused you to think, “That is why I am here.” “This is my purpose.” My life would never be the same if I never met…” Where do these transformational moments fall within your time line? How do they intersect with the years where life seemed to be falling apart? All of these moments mark the journey of a life.
When the snake sheds her skin or the butterfly is working to be released from a cocoon, they are not without the beauty of a new skin developing or the translucent wings that will carry them away. It is simply that when we are in the midst of it all we do not recognize the new, know it for what it is, trust that it will be the ground for this new life. Our own struggle with growth and development can make the journey much harder than it was intended to be. But the struggle also teaches us. As we learn, we might find that the next time, we allow ourselves to let go into the process rather than struggle against it. We might then trust and allow for simple flow.
When we left our home on Princeton it was with a peaceful heart. All the work that needed to be done in that home happened. A new home was needed to move forward into life and that home was found and continues to support. I am grateful for a home that could give my children stability while my inner world was shifting and I struggled to shed the skin that no longer served me or them. Would I change any of it? It is a fun exercise and I am grateful for my grandson’s questions, but, no. I am grateful for the privilege of being alive, for all that comes my way requiring my discernment, the growth of trusting intuition, learning from the choices made, all lacking perfection as it is a work of art, not a copy. I hold the whole of it, smile, and offer thanks.
When we are in the experience we want to judge the experience and give it a label of good or bad. Years later, after we have named something bad, we find it hard to look back at it as it reminds us of pain that we would sooner avoid. And, as we have named it good or bad we might miss the opportunity to see the flow of life, the connection of our story. Maybe by suspending judgement we will be able to give life the space to unfold.
There is a Chinese parable that many of you have heard but deserves repeating as it is a lesson we are faced with daily. It is about a farmer and a horse.
One day his horse runs away. And his neighbor comes over and says, to commiserate, “I’m so sorry about your horse.” And the farmer says “Who Knows What’s Good or Bad?” The neighbor is confused because this is clearly terrible. The horse is the most valuable thing he owns.
But the horse comes back the next day and he brings with him 12 feral horses. The neighbor comes back over to celebrate, “Congratulations on your great fortune!” And the farmer replies again: “Who Knows What’s Good or Bad?”
And the next day the farmer’s son is taming one of the wild horses and he’s thrown and breaks his leg. The neighbor comes back over, “I’m so sorry about your son.” The farmer repeats: “Who Knows What’s Good or Bad?”
Sure enough, the next day the army comes through their village and is conscripting able-bodied young men to go and fight in war, but the son is spared because of his broken leg.
And this story can go on and on like that. Good. Bad. Who knows?