It’s before the dawn and I’m up. The choice is mine. Hello writing practice. Hello day. I lie in bed for a minute or maybe five, feeling the way my mind slips like a gymnast between one state and another: one second I’m here, the next I’m somewhere else entirely, with people I’ve never met whose faces are as vivid as the day is new.
“Are you getting up?” T asks. He’s rubbing my feet, a ritual he started sometime this summer when he realized, maybe for the first time, how I settle into myself in the morning. Head first, then body slowly.
I’m always surprised that I can talk at all then, with my eyes closed, and my body still enmeshed in the silken cobwebs of drowse and dream.
“Maybe,” I say. The choice like a soft purring animal in bed with me.
But the truth is, I’ve already committed.
Yesterday I spent some time with my priorities for this year, looking at how each breaks down into hours and minute spent daily toward achieving them. And writing, as always, was at the top. It’s the most important thing to me, above all the urgent things, to show up and put to the page as the world turns to blue. Before there is rush, and fragment. Before the trees take on the pale color of day, and then are painted gold and blue as the sun climbs up through the tangled ladder of their branches. Before other things chime in, to make arguments of urgency that cannot be avoided.
And so even as I’m lying in the soft warm dark with this purring animal kneading the rumpled edges of my dreams, I know I’ll get up, press a hot wash cloth to my puffy eyes, pull on sweatpants and pour tea (never coffee first thing) and wait with the cursor at the page.
It takes another minute of struggle to do it. To get up, really. But then I’m here.
Last week my sister sent me a link to the Huffington Post essay, “Leaning In: Similarly Yet Differently” by Carissa K, about two friends whose lives had since high school, run on parallel tracks, careers, companies, promotions, each of them making one choice and then another; each of them progressing, or sometimes outpacing or catching up until the author went and had a baby, and the other friend did not.
Then, inevitably like tracks in a switching yard, their courses changed.
Isn’t that the way it goes?
I found myself nodding as I read, aware of my own narratives about how, and who, and why, things have turned out the way they have for me. The stories I’ve told myself about the life I’ve chosen. Now, at 35, I have enough of a past to look back on roads not taken, and the outcome of those choices not made will always be fiction, played out by the actors and actions of other peoples lives.
What I’m trying to say, I think, is that we all have our own version of Kate. An alter ego. A parallel universe. A real-life or imagined embodiment of what if, or if only. The way we didn’t go.
And truth is: at every turn, we choose, and with our choosing, the inevitable slice; the bifurcation; the way thing sheer off from our lives: opportunities, outcomes, options. The inevitable nature of choice is that there is always another. The what if? The passed-up chance. There will always be something we leave behind in order to make the choice we do.
This is another way of saying: the choices we make matter immensely.The ways we wake up or stay asleep to our lives. The ways we choose urgent over important, or the times we decide instead to do the most important thing, even when other things and other stories thunder in our ears with their urgency.
This is also a way of saying: those things you didn’t choose? Don’t let them define you. The lives you passed up in order to live this bold, glorious life? It’s all fiction. It’s all a story you’re telling yourself in your head. I'm reminding myself of this today, and also, hopefully reminding you:
The parallel path is not your path. Put your time into here, into this now, into this bright new day. Let the choices you make today be the ones that define who you are.