I’ve been thinking a lot about my old life up north—especially during the sunny winter months here in Florida—and what my life might have been like had I stayed. I even wrote the concluding chapter of my book, The Memory Keeper: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Travel, based on what might have been entitled, “Had I Been That Girl” on that very subject.
“I could have borne that howling black hole, the hell of winter that sometimes lasted through May, dark nights and days I worried about getting my car up the hill to the house on the icy roads, hours where I just dully stared at myself in the mirror. Waiting for winter to end. And I would have grown old . . . slack jawed, my skin dry from winters where the temperature fluctuated wildly between forty-five degrees and raining and twenty-six degrees and snowing. Had I been that girl, I never would have known that freedom of leaving, moving to warmer climates, a new life, new people.”
I’ve lived in Florida now for almost thirty years.
This big adventure, leaving everything I’ve ever known, my family, my friends, even a special someone has helped me grow and become who I am.
It has become my habit to spend time self-reflecting every May, my birth month, so this year, I’ve been reflecting on my life thus far.
I live in a small village.
I have a small circle of friends who are very dear to me.
I have a small family I’m close to.
And I’ve been wondering if my life too, is well . . . small.
I work a lot, don’t get a lot of playtime, and have never had an opportunity to do much volunteer work; something I’ve always wanted to do. I hope to write another book or two or three. I definitely want to spend more time with friends, cook them a meal or two or three. And I dream of spending a summer in the south of France—a writing summer, I’ll call it—where I like to think I’ll write perfectly beautiful words.
When I’m done, when all that is finished, then what? I question whether I’ll measure my life differently? Will others?
And what exactly is the yardstick for measuring one’s worth, for assessing life accomplishments?
Does it even matter? Not to say I don’t want to continue along a path of self-improvement, but as we strive for growth, to become better people, does that mean our current lives, the ones we are living are not enough?
It’s hard to imagine what might have been had I stayed in Pittsburgh—my home town, place of my birth. Would I have had more money, more stability, more time? Would my life have been “bigger?” Would I have had a bigger home, a yard, more children, maybe had more friends, more family, been a better person, or lived a happier life?
I find that hard to believe.
So it’s always with gratitude and no regret that I look back on that phantom life, the one belonging to another woman. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful to live in South Florida, not a day goes by that I’m not offered some new display of beauty that reaffirms my decision and the meaning of my life here, the quintessence of my existence.
Perhaps a small world and a small life are very different things. Because certainly, thanks to the pandemic, each of our worlds has become even smaller, and perhaps we shouldn’t judge our lives on the size of our worlds just now.
So if my life, and I believe I can speak for all of us, seems increasingly smaller, that doesn’t necessarily mean small in quality or meaning. Maybe I haven’t achieved all I want to achieve, grown as much as I want to grow as a person, or seen as much of the world as I want to see, but when I stand on the beach in the morning, that big, wide, beautiful, pristine brink of the Atlantic, my world doesn’t seem small. When I think about my daughter, family, and friends, or when I think about my book and parts of the world I’ve visited, my life doesn’t seem small. I move comfortably within my boundaries despite Covid restrictions without bumping into walls, and I think that’s a good thing. What life is and isn’t is probably not a great question to be examining right now, so even though May is my self-reflection month, I think I’ll let that go this year.
Next year, I think will be better.