Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Half Way to Antique

The alternate title to this post is:  Myrna Loy, Michelle Kwan and Learning to Live with Regret, Wrinkles and the Occasional Hot Flash.  I figured that one was too long for the header...

Courtesy of
Monday was Myrna Loy's birthday once more, so it is time to contemplate becoming yet another year older myself.  This one will be a milestone for me (I won't say which, but I'm sure you can figure it out), so it is only natural that I would contemplate what led me to this point.  Some may say that looking back does nothing but keep you from moving forward.  I would argue that having a good, long look at yourself every now and again prevents you from making the same mistakes twice.  And maybe it will prove to be a morality tale for someone else.  Don't do as I do, do as I say was a favorite saying of my father's.  Same concept here.  Because, let's face it, regret is a major part of my diet these days.  How can it not be when I couldn't prevent my daughters from suffering so utterly, one of them paying the ultimate price?

Not that I want to necessarily wallow in self pity, mind you.  What I hope to achieve is a pretty honest look at the path that I took to get to this porch on this weekend morning.  Because mine is a life swept along by the course of time and circumstances, not the other way around.  And I never thought I would be like that when I was growing up.  I always thought I was destined for something that would make a difference in the world.  I would imagine a lot of people are like that - maybe particularly in my generation.  We were born in a period of relative peace and prosperity.  We were coddled, I think.  Most of the parents of my friends had not even seen war themselves - some had served in Korea, but few had shared my father's path and served in multiple wars and grown up in the depression.  As a result, we were sheltered from any real strife and grew up with certain expectations about career, family and self-fulfillment.  We watched shows like Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch where family strife was not all that serious and always resolved by the end of the episode.  I can't and won't speak for anyone else, but it made me soft and lazy growing up, without any specific direction or determination.  The world was my oyster, so why worry about how I was going to open it up to find the pearl inside.  That would just happen, wouldn't it?  I was absolutely unprepared for how hard real life actually is.

I had a lot of fantasies about what I wanted to do with my life.  One of the biggest issues I had was that I liked so much about a lot of different things.  Even after I grew up a little and realized life was flying by, so I'd better get myself back in college before it was too late, I could never complete a degree because I could never settle on anything.  I loved history, but Criminal Justice was great fun to learn.  I wanted to write, so I took a lot of English classes, but I was interested in politics and the economic classes I took were interesting.  I liked law, so I dabbled a bit with that.  I contemplated being a park ranger early on, but at the time it was a hard road for women (not the work per se, but the Good Old Boy attitude of the male dominated profession), so I abandoned that thought quickly.  It struck me just the other day that, if I had to do it over again I would stick to a history degree and would have pursued a career in a museum.  I realized that whenever I go to the Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg, I am jealous of the people I see working there.  I could have rocked a career like that.  So, regret No. 1.  Anyway, the point to all of that is, I didn't have the resolve and sense of purpose that I think generations before me had coming out of the gate, so I meandered down the track, and it took me a while to realize the race was quickly passing me by.

The result of that was that I had to make a living somehow with no real discernible skill.  I take that back.  I had my father's massive work ethic and I plied that - eventually, after a few messy starts - into a job skill that got me by.  I've related that story before, of course.  I wasn't around for my children.  I've often said that I raised the company, not my family.  And I worked really hard at a job I didn't like, in fact loathed.  Face it: association management is a totally thankless job.  There is zero possibility you will make everyone happy. You're telling people what they can and cannot do on their property, after all.  Some of them will think you're too tough (if I had a dime every time someone called me a Nazi, I'd be sitting deck side on a yacht right about now), some will think you're too lax (all time favorite insult from a woman whose neighbor kept parking his Mercedes in front of her house:  "Your mother wasted her time giving birth to you."), and the rest are too busy living their lives to pay much attention to you.  Of course, as I've said before, I loved the people I worked with like family, which is why I stuck with it.  As much as I love many of those people, I still have multiple regrets about that period of my life.

But, am I a bad person?  I don't know.  I'd like to think not.  I have a mighty mean streak in me that comes out more often than I would like it to these days, but...  Anyway, even if I am less than an awesome individual right now, the great thing about humans is the ability to change.  I can still do that.  I can still be better than I was and be more like the person I envisioned I would be.  Yet, there are some things I cannot change.  The biggest being the fact that my oldest daughter lives only in our memories now.

Enter Michelle Kwan.  I've blogged about her before (when I explained why I sit out the Winter Olympics).  I think she is one of the most beautiful women on the planet, both inside and out.  I hold her in high esteem.  So, I was excited to see a brief article about her in the Sports Illustrated's Where Are They Now issue.  Not surprisingly, she is doing a lot and doing it well.  She looks gorgeous.  But most importantly, she is actually using her experiences as a skater toward diplomatic missions under the Obama administration.  Her confidence on the world stage as a competitor is serving her well, and, as the article stated, even her disappointment in the Olympics is working to her favor, teaching her valuable lessons she can now apply to work as a diplomat.  I was so relieved and glad to read that; the last I had heard she was plotting an attempt at a comeback for the most recent Olympics.  Obviously, I didn't know what had happened, but I knew she wasn't there, and I was secretly relieved.  I mean, for the most part, these come-back missions athletes plan are pretty sad.  Lance Armstrong, Brett Favre, Todd Eldredge just to name a few.  Some would say they all performed well in their attempts to re-enter an arena they had originally left behind, but I'm not one of the some.  I tend to think those aging athletes would have been served better by allowing the public to remember them in their prime, when they were at the top of their game.  Michelle Kwan, thankfully, figured that out and took her talents onto the next stage in her life.  She is still young, beautiful, intelligent and capable of changing the world.  Just not as a world class figure skater.  I continue to be inspired by this young woman, 20 years my junior.

There are two morals to this story:

1) Regret is part of life and is a valuable teacher.  If you say you say you have no regrets in your life, you are either a candidate for sainthood or extremely arrogant.  I believe most of have regrets about some of the things we did or didn't do with our lives.  Rather than bemoan this, I think the key is to learn from them and move forward.  And, not just to manage to escape a repeat performance of whatever caused the regrets, but to help others avoid the same level of pain.  The key, I think, to living with regret is to turn it around into something that helps others.

2) Age is more than just a number.  I don't think I'll realistically be able to pursue a second career as a park ranger at this point.  Can you imagine me holding up an investigation into a bear mauling in Yellowstone because I need a moment to work through a hot flash?  The reality is there are indeed some doors that have shut and locked behind me.  It doesn't mean I'm all dried up and can't add anything to society, but I have to balance my own aspirations with the reality of where I am in life.  The question remains just where the limit of that ability lies.  But, I accept I'm no longer a young woman with all my life in front of me.  I am half way to antique as of Monday.  Some doors may be closed, but half of them are still open! 

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