From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

I want to be like Anna Quindlen

I recently read Anna Quindlen’s new memoir, “Lots of Cake and Plenty of Candles.” I didn’t get past the first paragraph in the introduction titled “Life in the Fifties” before I stopped reading to think about one of the first things she wrote. “It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again. It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.”

I’ve spent a lot of time studying my life’s arc because I’ve written and rewritten a memoir about a million times. (Okay, not a million, but it feels that way.)

It’s not easy charting the arc and story line of your life. You can’t do it with any degree of integrity if you don’t take a thorough and honest look at the inner workings of your life, and sometimes that can be both too revealing, and a little painful.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book about my life.  But I’ve fought the inner critic that says it’s downright arrogant to think your life is worthy of a memoir.  After all, who would be interested enough to buy it and read it?  And could I handle the scrutiny of those readers if I ever really published it?

I talk back to that critic and say there are people in the world that are born to write just like there are people born to make music, paint, quilt, garden, cook, or be accountants and biologists.

While struggling to write my memoir, I spent a lot of time going over old journals to find out who I really was at different times of my life. In journal after journal, I started the first page by writing, “I love starting a new journal and having all these clean pages waiting to be filled.”  Then at the end of a journal, I was always wistful about closing another chapter of my life. Sometimes I was happy to close a particularly painful time or excited about what was ahead.

So when I read Quindlen’s introductory paragraph to her book I wondered about the shape of my life and whether I’d made the complete circle that she described. “First, I was who I was.”

As a child, I was probably more authentic and less intentional because my family, friends, community and circumstances were shaping my personality and values. Then when I get a little older, my maturing mind starting wondering who I was and what I wanted in my life. I figured it out a bit at a time, and then set out to be that person. I think Quindlen is right that we all do this. Sometimes we like the person we create and sometimes we don’t.  Then, we have to re-evaluate everything and make adjustments or start all over again.

The tragedy is when we don’t like the person we’ve created and we refuse to redo ourselves and become someone better, someone we actually like and respect more. I think this the hardest and longest part of our lives. (In fact, does it ever end?)

Learning who are and who we want to be is hard work because we worry about disappointing ourselves, not meeting our own expectations and goals, and not living up to what others expect of us, even God. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out who God really wants me to be because right when I think I’ve figured it out, He surprises me and puts something I never wanted or expected into my life, and I think, “Really God? Am I that woman? Do you really want me to be that woman?”

I hear my daughters and their friends often say, “I don’t want to be that girl or that person.”

But sometimes, probably more times than not, we get “those lives” – not because we want them, but because they are somehow good for us. They usually come with big, hairy life lessons that we wouldn’t learn without them. It would sure be nice sometimes to learn them without so much pain, wouldn’t it?

I’m generally happy with the woman I’ve created, but I’m still in the “development” stage because I don’t feel fully invented yet. I know there’s always something new just around the corner.  I just have to be “that woman” that deals with it, responds well, and becomes better because of it.

The truth is I’m not happy with some of the things that “just are” in my life because I didn’t really get a say about whether they happened or not.  (Cancer is always a good example.)

I know I get a say in how I respond but I’ve always wished that some things (like cancer) could have knocked a little more gently on my door and that I’d had a choice of whether to invite it in or slam the door. Of course, none of us get that kind the choice. Unwanted experiences often bully their way in whether we want them or not.  Sometimes we can do everything in our power to make them feel unwelcome and go away, but they just lounge around like a bad houseguest that you can’t get rid of.

What I’m trying to figure out is how we live graceful, happy lives when we negatively think we are “that person” with “that life” we didn’t want. I know all about positive thinking, and I try to apply those positive psychology principles but I’m not there yet. I’m not fully “who I was again,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be.

In many ways, I’m much better than who I was, but I think I’ll always be a work in progress, trying to accept things I can’t change and yearning to be like Anna Quindlen, the one who claims to be quietly, sublimely back to the innocent childhood state of just being comfortable with who she is without feeling any internal or external pressure to be more. I want to be that woman, but now I’m not.

I want to know: Where are you in this process?  Are you happy with the person you’ve become?  Are you learning from the bad house guest that barged his or her way into your life or are you sublimely happy in your own skin and your current place in life? I’d love to know.

From the News, Religion

Does Truth Exist?

Last week we went to the beach in North Carolina.  Annie invited a group of her high school friends to join us.

Every night after dinner we asked each other probing questions and talked about the big concepts of life.

Is there a God?

If so, what is He like?

Does God have a plan for us or are we in complete charge of our lives?

What beliefs and values shape your life?

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

What is faith?

Why do some people have faith and others don’t?

How can someone really live by faith?

Why is it so central to some people and irrelevant to others?

How do you know whether something is true and is there such a thing as truth?

This group of 19-year old college students astound me with their passion for answers to these questions.

They are achievement-oriented and live their lives “on purpose.”

They believe that being their best matters.

They believe in being good people and they know right from wrong.  Even though there are many questions on their minds, they are clear about their own ethics and morals. They are true to what they believe even though they are still sorting out what it is they really believe.

They all come from different religion backgrounds and some grew up without any religious influence in their lives at all.

Yet, they yearn to define themselves.  They want to stand for something.

thank you Griffin Harrington for the photo!

Part of me wanted to tell them all the answers to these life questions because after living so many years, I’ve figured a lot of things out.

But part of me relished the conversation, the struggle, the growth that comes from figuring out life on your own.

I enjoyed listening to what they wonder about, what scares and worries them.

Annie Turner photo

I learned their fears and questions aren’t much different from my own, and that while I have a strong set of beliefs and values, I have much to learn from them.

I wanted to tell them what it’s like to grow up and finally have all the answers.

I discovered two problems with that.

First, we only learn by experience and by figuring things out ourselves.

Second, and most important, I still don’t have all the answers.

Even after all these years of forming my own beliefs and relying on a certain set of religious guideposts, I still have a lot to learn.

And I love learning it from optimistic, bright, questioning 19-year olds whose minds are on fire with curiosity.

There is power in their intellectual form of gymnastics as they ask hard questions, and seek inspired answers.

Our conversations reminded me of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words:  “The time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of who we are and what we stand for…This is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, breadth and importance of our own mission…It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences…It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain…It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all our relationships…It is a time to nurture yourself spiritually, intellectually and to have no fears, no doubts about your future.”

This stellar group of friends are living up to these words, giving me no doubts about my future because I feel assured that as I age and they take my place as the responsible adults in life, I am in capable hands.

Friends

L-O-V-E

I’m in Arizona for Sara’s roommate, Julie’s wedding.  Julie has been like part of our family for the last four years.

She is the roommate you pray for when you want your daughter to be happy in her new college life.

One afternoon when I was visiting them during their sophomore year, Julie asked Sara about her day.  Then she said, “Come and sit down and tell me all about it.” She scooted over on the couch to make room for Sara and I, then crossed her brown Arizona legs and got comfortable, facing both of us, ready to listen, really listen to Sara tell her about her day.

That was the moment I fell in love with her.  I knew Sara had a generous, open, kind, and loyal friend, and that their friendship would not end at graduation when they went their separate ways to create their individual lives.

When they both applied for the London Study Abroad program, her Mom and I worried about what would happen if one got in and the other one didn’t.  How could we have half of this perfect pair schlepping to class during a cold Utah winter while the other one discovered Cath Kidston, visited the Tower of London, and watched London roll out the red carpet for a royal wedding?

 

Luckily they were both accepted and made their jolly trip to London together.  They attended prep classes on campus before they went, and walked in separately so they wouldn’t tip of f the other students that they were best friends.  This was their way of branching out. Then they met outside and came together like two magnets again.

They both flew to London from different places but met at the airport and rode together to their new home on Palace Court. They lived off cupcakes, crepes, and European chocolate; rode bikes in Hyde Park and had tea in Kensington Palace.  They celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, and fell asleep on each other on every sightseeing bus trip.

When Doug and I went to London at the end of their semester to take advantage of them as our experienced tour guides, they were sad to leave Palace Court but when we took them to our hotel, they were giddy with excitement about sleeping in what they saw as fancy luxurious beds after sleeping on student bunk beds all semester.

We toured Italy with them and laughed at their goals of having gelato every single day and taking pictures of all their meals.

When we arrived early to help get ready for Julie’s wedding reception, Julie wasn’t in her wedding dress yet. Sara and Julie looked at each other and tears filled up in their eyes, and they grabbed each other in a tight hug.

“Do you want to help me get dressed in my wedding gown?” Julie asked.

“Of course!” Sara said, and they walked off together.

I couldn’t keep the tears from filling my eyes either as the two of them walked away.

Even though Julie’s got a new best friend and roommate, Sara and Julie’s sweet friendship will not fade away.  They have too many memories from their freshman dorm life to their dreamlike semester abroad.  They have helped each other through homesick moments, broken hearts and boyfriends, homework, finals, and studying stress, and a million other moments known only to the two of them.

As Julie climbed into her husband’s jeep with “just married” scrawled on the window, I watched Sara and the other guests send them off in with sparklers lighting up the night sky.   Sara and the other bridesmaids spelled out L-O-V-E with their sparklers. Just then, Julie turned around, smiled and waved at Sara, and I knew that another one of those priceless girlfriend moments had transpired.

 

I am so grateful for my daughters’ friends.  They are there for them when I can’t be.  They are the shoulders they cry on when they can’t cry on mine. They are the ones they confide in about all the things they can’t comfortably tell me.  They are the ones who keep them going in their day-to-day lives because they share a girlfriend bond that is different from a mother-daughter bond.

Congratulations Julie, and thank you for being Sara’s true friend, for lifting her up, cheering her on, and consistently loving her.  Thank you for being there for me because when God gives daughters good friends, he gives mothers peace of mind and solace, and to a mother, that is the greatest gift ever.