Each of us has a destiny that is mostly of our own making but life has a way of intersecting our plans and sending us in directions that we might never have otherwise imagined. When we are young we tend to think big, hoping that somehow we will be that one person who impacts the world in positive life changing ways. As time goes by we begin to realize that for most of us our influence will be rather quiet and unassuming but nonetheless critical to the unfolding of history. It is in each small act multiplied a thousand times over that we actually make differences that may never be noticed but nonetheless have a ripple effect on the future. It is most often in our unplanned moments that we achieve the relevance that we seek. Sometimes we never even know how we may have changed the course of life.
Like most young people I began my journey into adulthood filled with outsized dreams. I suppose that I initially wanted it all, fame, fortune, significance. I certainly felt that I had the potential to achieve whatever I desired but my attention to matters of career and success were diverted time and again by affairs of family and friendship. I soon occurred to me that the so called trappings of power and influence meant less to me than caring for the people that I loved. I felt a responsibility for their safety and happiness that over road my ambitions on occasion after occasion. By choice I embraced a quiet and mostly obscure life of balancing work and home and friendships. I passed on opportunities that might have propelled me into the limelight because I knew that it was more important to perform the age old balancing act that women have embraced for centuries.
Tradition encourages men to be providers and women to be caretakers. Moving out of that mold requires a level of energy and skill that I never fully developed. I all too often found myself doing a mediocre job of trying to be all things to all people and so ultimately I had to decide exactly what I was able to handle and still manage to do a somewhat good job in each arena. Added to my responsibilities was the life long care of my mother whenever her mental illness rose to the forefront of my concerns. In those times I suppose I neglected my job, my children and my husband to varying degrees in that order. Luckily I was surrounded by incredibly understanding people who took up the slack for me in each part of my duties.
For a time I felt resentful that my role in life was so confined by circumstance but over time I began to understand that I was actually choosing how to react. I was not bound by anyone but myself. When I realized that I had been exercising my own free will I began to see that my destiny had always been to quietly minister to the people closest to me. I saw it as an honor, albeit a challenging one, to be able to nurse my mom through the cycles of depression and mania that overtook her mind with the regularity of the seasons. I found that my work gave me enough flexibility to do something important while still being a rock of refuge for my mother. It also allowed me to be present for my daughters in ways that other jobs might have inhibited.
My family supported me on the thousands of evenings when I graded papers and planned lessons. They listened to my babbling about my students. They honored and respected what I was doing even though the hours that I gave to it were never repaid in monetary rewards that may have allowed them to enjoy a higher standard of living. They sacrificed so that I might feel good about my small contribution to the world.
My destiny ended up being a life of service which in some ways has been a somewhat selfish thing. I think I may have given myself more joy than I ever shared with the people for whom I cared. The feeling of doing something important for a single soul is beyond measure and I have felt that rush of altruism over and over again. Still, I find myself thinking that there is more that I must do. I listen for hints of how I might make small differences in each of my remaining days.
I am now retired. My influence and contacts are dwindling. The world is chugging along without me. My mother is gone, freeing me to do more for others, but I no longer have the energy that I once had. I accomplish smaller and smaller things. I imagine a time in the future when I may even become someone’s project, a person who must be helped rather than being a helper. It will be more difficult for me to accept that role than any other that I have thus far performed.
My hope is that I will maintain my mind, my health and my independence like my grandfather did. I want to be like him in providing a kind of wisdom and hopefulness to those I encounter. He was a teacher, a storyteller, an historian, a philosopher in the last decades of his life. His world became smaller and smaller as he approached his one hundred eighth year but his knowledge and understanding only grew. He shared his optimism and inspired us with his certainty that life was unfolding just as it was meant to be. He helped us to understand how the jumbled threads of our lives ultimately weave a glorious and unique tapestry.
Each of us has a destiny. From moment to moment we are changing the world in ways both big and small. Every life is important. Hopefully we have made choices that make us better people. Hopefully we will be ready to accept and tackle the unexpected challenges that come our way. The millions of choices being made the world over ultimately affect us all. Let us hope that we always choose well.