The other night I sat at our dining room table, across from my daughter and her forever friend, A. It was late, and everyone else in the house had long since gone to sleep. As tired as I was, I couldn’t pull myself away from the moment – the chance to look across at them, remembering their fourth-grade sleepover faces and times before life threw boys and jobs and college and adulthood in their path.
I could see it in their eyes. They’re feeling the insidious creep of growing up, the heaviness of choices that at times seem overwhelming and exhilarating all at once.
I wasn’t exactly sure how much to say. I didn’t want to sound preachy or teacher-like. They both passed my 8th grade English class long ago.
So I listened. I hesitated, I looked in their eyes as they shared their fears and hopes, and finally, I took a breath and broke in.
“I’m proud of you, you know,” I said, pushing my glasses to the top of my head. “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want – that where you thought you wanted to go when you were 17 might not be the destination you want to head in right now. And that’s ok.”
They both looked down and back up at me. “Thanks, mamawolfe,” A. replied. I couldn’t tell if she was going to smile or cry.
“Life isn’t always a straight path. In fact, for most of the people I know, life was a curvy, squiggly, up and down and all around kind of a journey – especially in college. The idea that someone could know enough about themselves to make a decision about their future when they’re only 17 is crazy – you should know that decisions can be changed, courses can be altered, and if you listen to your gut and trust the journey, everything will work itself out.” My words hung there for a minute until the corners of their mouths started to turn up, their eyes met mine, and by the end, the three of us had exhaled.
I watched as they hugged and whispered goodbye, promised to see each other soon and that they would miss each other.
The only thing you shouldn’t miss
Later that night, after I’d tucked my girl in and kissed her goodnight, I was browsing online and came across Oprah Winfrey’s quote, “The only thing you shouldn’t miss is what matters to you”.
I know – you’re saying ‘easier said than done, Oprah’ right about now, aren’t you?
Of course, we shouldn’t miss what matters to us. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it. Why would we spend our time paying attention to those things that in the long run really don’t mean a thing?
But why do we miss it so often, then? What does matter most, I wonder?
These are the kinds of things I think about when I’m taking my dog for long walks. Or lying under the air conditioner on a hotel room bed, alone. Or when my hands are immersed in sudsy, grapefruit scented warm water and I’m unconsciously scrubbing the remnants of last night’s pasta sauce off the Teflon coated pan. Definitely when I’m elbow deep in dirt and weeding in my garden.
When I was in my twenties, what was mattering most to me? Did I even know? I remember feeling like my two girls did tonight – the fear, the insecurity, the cold sweats and second thoughts and absolute stupefaction over what life had in store for me once I graduated from college.
I stumbled alone, crossing my fingers and hoping the Universe would reveal the shortcut I needed to take to get where I thought I should be. It wasn’t a straight line for me, either. The circuit was tumultuous, terrifying and exhilarating, for sure, and for the last 25 years, I’ve towed the line in teaching.
All along, I’ve been trying to figure out just what Oprah reminded me of – what matters most.
Maybe it’s turning 50 this year, or perhaps it’s been watching my daughter move away and my son battle health challenges that has cleared the path for me. Because today, more than ever, I’m realizing that the words I shared at my dining room table were words I needed to remind myself – “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want.”
The passageway of my life is narrowing with age, but widening with perspective. I know now, more than ever, that listening to my intuition and trusting the journey is the route before me.
I know that like the crack of daylight at dawn, it’s the glorious moments of each day, the little extraordinary ordinary moments that offer a glimpse into the world, are what matters to me.
These are the only things you shouldn’t miss.