Like most avid readers, I am slightly obsessive compulsive about my reading habits. When I find an author that i like, I don’t read anyone else and I don’t stop until I’ve ready every book and article that they’ve published. I also go through different genre periods. For one whole summer I loved all things classic – if it wasn’t written prior to the 19th century then I wasn’t interested. For two years straight, I read nothing but mysteries, only stopping once I could consistently guess the ending to a Mary Higgins Clark novel, and currently I can’t help but read every old-fashioned
bodice ripper regency romance novel that crosses my path (Georgette Heyer anyone?) For about five days in the 6th grade, I was into these books:
The Choose Your Own Adventure series was different than normal reading since you got to participate and choose the outcome of the book. It was very much like one of those dinner theaters where you are encouraged to interact and heckle the actors while throwing popcorn. At some point in the book, there would be a point of divergence, a fork in the road where you could decide whether you wanted to save the girl from the abominable snowman or go in search of the treasure while the snowman ate the girl, the choice was yours. Of course the scenarios got pretty silly after awhile (which is probably why this phase only lasted for 5 days) .
I found that I would “cheat” while reading these books. I would choose one path and make decisions to the end and then I would flip back to the original point of divergence and try another path to see where it would lead and I would do this over and over until I had exhausted every possible combination of outcomes. I was never satisfied with the ending.
Do you ever wish you could do that in real life? Wish that you could go back to some point of divergence and start all over again. Maybe this time you’ll choose the trail on the left that seems clear for miles vice the brambly, thorny path that you seem to be perpetually on. I think about this sometimes — what my life would look like if I’d never gone to the Naval Academy, or if I had chosen to get out of the Navy and stay in Germany, or any of the million other points of divergence that I’ve experienced.
When I am having a particularly lonely week as a single girl, I often think of one particular Friday afternoon in Washington D.C. I’d just passed my Nuclear Engineer exam/interview the previous day and I was beyond ecstatic. I woke up grinning on Friday morning and decided to play metro roulette while the bestie was at work. I closed my eyes and picked a destination from the map and then I hopped the metro and set about exploring the city. I found an Urban Outfitters sometime during that morning and bought my favorite dress, the one that I even now I put on when I want to feel my best. It looked so great on me that I walked out of the store with it on, my previous outfit crumpled into my shopping bag.
I was radiating warmth and happiness, smiling and talking to strangers. The bestie called to ask my location as I stood at a crosswalk, waiting for the llight to change. As I started to cross, laughing gaily and practically skipping, I noticed a good-looking man who was, in turn, noticing me. It was a perfect movie meet cute. We passed each other smiling and staring and then looking back over our shoulders at each other until we’d reached our opposite corners. And there we stood, still grinning at one another, waiting once more for the light to change. I gave the bestie a Bob Costas play-by-play as as he started back across yhe street. I hollered “He’s coming back! I gotta go!” and hung up the phone. Fireworks started to explode, balloons and doves took flight, and I think there was a Bollywood dance sequence at some point. And the rest is history. Just not part of my history.
The reality is that I had to go back to Virginia the next day and was, shortly thereafter, moving to Germania. I don’t even remember his name! Yet I often come back to this particular fork in the road. And just like my Choose Your Own Adventure obsession, I imagine all of the possible outcomes of that situation. The end result? Discontent with my current life — or perhaps it is the discontentment that triggers the daydreaming.
On days when work seems particularly unbearable or everything about my life is untenable, I am invited to escape the loneliness, the downright ordinariness, the ever-present difficulties inherent in this life. Instead of dealing with tough situations, I can imagine alternate realities for myself where there’s always a prince in the wings, where my response is always gracious, where people find me completely irresistible. It’s tempting to live at these junction points; tempting to map out all of the billions of ways that our lives could have been different. The truth, however, is that life has to be lived in the present.
I keep coming back to this C.S. Lewis quote — the very first words on this blog:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. ~C.S. Lewis
The unpleasant and difficult times are as much a part of my life as all of the good times. Attempting to escape present difficulties by re-imagining my past does nothing to help me in the present and very little to determine my future. It is by choosing to live fully in the present, choosing to daily walk by Faith that a real life — an adventure! truly takes shape and comes alive.
Next week I will reconnect with old friends, lovers, and everyone in between at my ten year college reunion (where did the time go?). As we trade reminisces and sea stories, I’ll laugh and join in the revelry, but I will remain anchored to this present life. No dwelling on old points of divergence — no discussion of should have/could have beens. I’ll remind myself that my adventure is a daily occurring Event and not to forget to tune in to tomorrow’s installment.