Last weekend I got a glimpse – just a small one – into my old life.
Now to be fair, it wasn’t so much a glimpse into my old life as a glimpse into the glimmering image of my old life that’s all-to-easy to become sentimental about. Especially when today’s version of life gets hard.
I tend to think of my adult life in two distinct phases: (1) the single, childless, responsible-for-no-one- but-myself twenties and (2) the married, mothering, responsible for very-important-little-lives thirties. If you don’t count college, I spent roughly eight years in the first phase. I’m about four years into the second.
Mine isn’t another tale of youthful, wild abandon given up for staid, respectable family life. Mine is a much tamer, perhaps more boring story of trying (and often not succeeding) to live a full and rich life, regardless of my circumstances.
Part of my single twenties was spent in Washington, DC. The corresponding glimmering images of that time involve exotic foods at cool restaurants; bars full of interesting, intelligent conversation; stimulating lectures by national and foreign leaders; formal dinners in fancy hotels; runs (I’ll just call them “runs,” even though I’ve never really managed more than a frantic-paced, arms-flailing kind of walk) on the Capitol grounds; lazy days at museums when I was – get this – free to sit and ponder and dawdle as long as I liked; and the exciting anticipation that comes from never knowing who you might meet next.
To some of you, that might sound like an enviable way to spend part of your twenties. To others (ahem, my brother), it might sound pretty dorky. To me, it’s downright dreamy. I look back on that time through a generous sort of haze – the kind that makes everything more beautiful/interesting/exciting than it could ever have been in real time. It glimmers.
And it is, of course, only part of the story. I spent the bulk of my time in Washington at work or at home or (so it felt) on the metro. I was bored and nervous and depressed. I was mugged. I was terrorized first by September 11th, then by the Beltway sniper attacks. I experienced heartache. I was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. Most of all, I was lonely.
But last weekend, during two short trips into DC, I was ready to forget all of that. I went to a ball (thank you to my lovely friend Betsy and her husband Will for inviting us along as their guests) benefitting a very worthy charity, which was held at a gorgeous location just steps away from the White House. Black ties + beautiful dresses + live band + amazing setting = GLIMMER.
I also spent an afternoon on the historic campus of Georgetown University to witness and celebrate the baptism of my best bud’s beautiful baby boy. (Thank you to my dearest Catey and her husband Eric for inviting us to be part of the big day.) Historic buildings + good company + lovely waterfront drive + witnessing a child I love enter the Church also = GLIMMER, as far as I’m concerned.
As you might imagine, my weekend was punctuated with wistful sighs as I looked around at reminders of (the airbrushed version of) my past. While physically in the District, I permitted (indeed, I encouraged) myself to wax sentimental about the whole thing. But on the way home, I wizened up enough to take the longer view.
On the surface, my life these days seems exponentially less interesting than it was in my twenties. I get boys out of bed, I change diapers, I dress squirming bodies that act like they’re made of Jello, I prepare meal after meal after meal, I do dishes, I break up fights, I kiss boo-boo’s, I buy groceries, I wash clothes, I clean up vomit. Again and again and again.
I get to be alone once every two to three weeks for a solo trip to Target or church. Every three to four months, I have the luxury of two hours by myself at the hair salon. Gone are my heels and business suits, gone are my cute-ish going-out clothes. I now dress for basic public acceptability and the comfort that enables quick response times to boyish antics.
My life is common. It is tedious. It is not entirely my own. In looking back, I don’t think my future self will ever see this life glimmer.
But it just might see this life glow. This right-here life of mine has a few wonderful things that my glimmering, fancy-dress DC life never had: It has love, commitment, and contentment. It has three sets of arms to hug me. It has people who need me. It has the firm understanding that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
To my own heart, nothing can compare to that.
The single, in-pursuit-of-the-interesting-and-exciting, unattached life can be wonderful. I wish I’d taken better advantage of it. I wish I’d done more of the lectures and the travels and the museum lounging. I wish that, while I was in the middle of it, I’d seen that period of my life as precious, rather than an annoying wait for my “real” life to start. Viewing your current life as less real or less important than some supposed future is no way to live.
Noticing and appreciating the beauty and opportunity in your own life – whatever phase you’re in – is, I think, the way to do it. I’m glad I got a pretty little glimpse into my “old” life last weekend. I’m glad my response to it was a loving sort of wistfulness. And I’m glad that the glimpse prompted gratitude for both that season of my life and for the one I’m in now. I was blessed back then; I am blessed now. And that’s worth remembering.