Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Republished from my personal blog: Feeding the Soil

I need books in my life. I really do. I need to be reading a book for fun in order to live a truly rounded, whole existence.

I know this about myself and yet I don't always cooperate with my needs. When I get busy at work, my reading slips quietly off my agenda for the day (or week or month!). It's sad.

But I'm on vacation! And I am reconnecting with my dear friend, Books. I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Yes, I know I am behind all the other readers in America...) It's a memoir about living an inauthentic life (in her case, it was in an unhealthy marriage) and then reclaiming that life.

I am touched by this passage:
"Getting out of a marriage is rough, though, and not just for the legal/financial complications or the massive lifestyle upheaval...It's the emotional recoil that kills you, the shock of stepping off the track of a conventional lifestyle and losing all the embracing comforts that keep so many people on that track forever. To create a family with a spouse is one of the most fundamental ways a person can find continuity and meaning in American (or any) society. I rediscover this truth every time I go to a big reunion of my mother's family in Minnesota and I see how everyone is held so reassuringly in their positions over the years. First, you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, then you are a grandparent--at every stage you know who you are, you know what your destiny is and you know where to sit at the reunion. You sit with the other children, or teenagers, or young parents, or retirees. Until at last you are sitting with the ninety-year-olds in the shade, watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem--you're the person who created all this. The satisfaction of this knowledge is immediate, and moreover, it's universally recognized. How many people have I heard claim their children as the greatest accomplishment and comfort of their lives? It's the thing they can always lean on during a metaphysical crisis, or a moment of doubt about their relevancy--If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well.

But what if, either by choice or by reluctant necessity, you end up not participating in this comforting cycle of family and continuity? What if you step out? Where do you sit at the reunion? How do you mark time's passage without the fear that you've just frittered away your time on earth without being relevant? You'll need to find another purpose, another measure by which to judge whether or not you have been a successful human being. I love children, but what if I don't want any? What kind of person does that make me?

Virginia Woolf wrote, 'Across the broad continent of a woman's life falls the shadow of a sword.' On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where 'all is correct.' But on the other side of that sword, if you're crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, 'all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.' Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be more perilous."
Hear! Hear! I'm raising my glass (of water) to the notion of finding our authentic paths. For some, that authentic path will look like a house full of children without feeling feminist guilt about succumbing to the "shackles of domesticity." For others, it looks like a life of traveling solo.

In many ways, I tread along a conventional path. I chose marriage for myself because I like the security that comes from a close, certain circle. I have a partner in awesomeness, day in and day out. He rubs my hair when I am in a pouty mood. He listens to me complain about challenges at work and then asks, "So what are you going to do about it?" I take him to the emergency room when he is completely dehydrated from the flu. I leave him little love notes to brighten his day. One of us says, "See you in the morning" and then other one says, "See you in my dreams" each night before bed.

I also choose to become a mother. I am drawn to the opportunity to care for another human being so completely.

But there are other ways in which I deviate from convention. I do not want my child (or children) to be my measure of success or my one big contribution to the world. I want to impact the way we educate children in our country, particularly children from low-income neighborhoods. I want to inspire people to speak the truth and be authentic to themselves and each other.

I also deviated from the conventional path by reclaiming the real purpose of a wedding and resisting the lure of the Wedding Industrial Complex, despite gasps and doubts from my friends and family.

And then there was the act of becoming a vegetarian in a family of carnivores.

And then there was the act of pursuing careers in non-profit, despite my grandparents' notion that I should go into corporate advertising.

It can be uncomfortable and uncertain to step off the path that is so clearly laid out for us by others. And yet the choice is ours. We can choose the conventional path for ourselves, we can choose an entirely different path, or we can spend some time on both paths. Although it is not always clear what choice we should make, it is very clear that the choice is ultimately ours and should choose wisely.

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megan said...

i just mentioned, oh 5 mins ago, how i haven't read a book in months. since we moved, other priorities have taken precendence. i read this post, and you're reading a book my friend leant me that is still sitting on the shelf. i've been in a funk and maybe this is a glaring sign that i should pick up the book!

btw, i choose the conventional path. i'm not ashamed to know or admit that i want nothing more than a husband and children. i feel like charlotte off sex and the city. :) but my sister is choosing an alternate path, and she is just as happy. to each his/her own; live and let live. it makes for a better world.

Brittany said...

New follower there! I'm getting married in July and I'm on a very strict budget. LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog it's adorable.

nina said...

When I was turning 29 and had just gone back to school (starting at the beginning again!) I started getting concerned about how I wasn't following the path I was supposed to. My younger sister was getting married I was looking forward to another 3 years of school and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. My dad (who comes up with some gems sometimes) said "There is no "path." There is only YOUR path. You're going to have an interesting life--you've HAD and interesting life. Keep going." I keep those words ever present in my mind when I think about the fact that I'm getting married for the first time at 38 in the middle of my master's degree after having made another career change and my 30 year old partner who is all of a sudden on a totally different path than he was expecting!

I've learned to embrace the choices I've made over the years because I've learned from all of them and they've made me who I am. Maybe having kids at 40 wasn't something I had imagined but it just means I'll have a different child-rearing experience than other people--and the one I'm supposed to have.

Michele@Surprise Wedding said...

Love that book. Worth every bit of hype, in my opinion. In fact, one of my favorite phrases - and a personal mantra - is found within it's pages:

"You have a wishbone where your backbone is supposed to be."

I hope the same can never be said for me. :)

Princess Christy said...

I HAVE to have books too. Even if I only get to read a chapter, my day is not complete without some reading time!

Eco Yogini said...

i have just read that book- was pleasantly surprised (but not happy with the ending...).

yep- that passage spoke to me as well!

a nice reminder during the craziness :) Thank you!

(ps- LOVE the new blog look)

cabin design said...

Thanks for posting the passage. Books are really helpful to many. This is where we discover a lot of things.

Allison said...

Thanks for saying what I haven't been able to define.

The Sapphic Housewife said...

I'm going to have to add that one to my reading this (which tends to be mostly fiction, with a few great non-fiction books).

I really feel the being on both sides of the sword thing, as a woman married to another woman, but also as a woman who is essentially taking the domestic role of generations of women before me. I've felt like a misfit on both sides, but I'm learning, slowly but surely, that it's about choosing it.

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