I’ve just finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It was, of course, wonderful. This post is not about the book.
“Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken”
There are paths I didn’t take in life. Ones I travelled a little way down and then got stuck at some barrier or other and turned aside from. Ones I used to, and sometimes still do, think I ought to have been able to navigate. I should have finished a degree. I should have found another, better job when the kids were younger. I should be more adventurous, more active, more willing to climb mountains. The view from the top is worth the pain, isn’t it? I should write a novel, I like books don’t I? I should do something with all that intelligence, imagination, passion for justice. Turn it into money, turn it into art, save the world.
I think I have gone through most of my life feeling like I was never doing enough, being enough. I’m not entirely sure how much of that I imposed on myself and how much came from outside me. I have always felt like I had to justify wanting to be a mum rather than “have a career”, wanting to sit and relax rather than go “somewhere” and do “something”, wanting to watch and listen and read rather than create, wanting to learn but not having an interest in doing the work of studying, essay writing, exams.
How fucked up is it that I see my life in terms of what I’ve not done? That my failures are what come to mind first and foremost? I have to force myself to remember that I have climbed mountains, I have raced a horse across a paddock, I have dived into crashing surf and breathed salt spray and swum with stingrays and skated on outdoor ice and milked goats and made beautiful things and shared knowledge and skills with people and I have given birth three times and my life is not small, it is not less than. I am not diminished by not wanting to do everything that other people want to do, or seem to think I ought to want to do.
It’s hard to value what you have done with your life when you feel as though what you do isn’t valued, isn’t considered enough. (I know I am valued, I know I am enough. I have done the hard work to know that. I will keep doing that hard work. It would be nice to be able to stop.)
It would be nice to think that every person could take every possible path in life, and when you’re starting out I guess that’s a better aspiration to have than to think you have nowhere to go. But the truth is we can’t all do everything and be everything, when you choose one path other paths get left behind. And some paths once chosen don’t allow for a change of mind, you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, turn aside from them no matter how fascinating and exciting that new path you can see over there through the trees looks. You just have to keep travelling along until new paths open up ahead. HA. And because I am apparently flogging this metaphor to death I suppose I have to acknowledge that if you find yourself on what is clearly the absolutely wrong path then you should probably grab a machete and hack your way through the undergrowth to find something better, just be careful what you slash at on your way. And don’t pretend to yourself or anyone else that you can travel two divergent paths at once.
Well, that got convoluted and silly. I’m publishing it anyway, because it’s also a little bit cathartic.