Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Room with Many Doors

“The future is called ‘perhaps’, which is the only possible thing to call the future. And the important thing is not to allow that to scare you.” – Tennessee Williams

I don’t believe in a single future.

I used to. We’re trained to. When I was a kid, I grew up believing that life was a straight line, that we go from Point A to Point B to Point C and it’s all very orderly, very neat: no muss, no fuss.

After all, how many times were we all asked that question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” As if we were supposed to know – as children – what our future was supposed to hold for us. But they always expected an answer. And woe be to the child who answered “I don’t know.” Oh! All those helpful suggestions, all those nagging follow-ups.

And then, if we changed our minds, we were…flighty. Flaky. Indecisive. “But I thought you wanted to be a veterinarian?” Hello? I was eight years old when I said that. Are you really going to hold me to what I said when Grizzly Adams was playing on TV?

We grow up, we live, we exist, not in one straight line but more in a series of “choose your own adventure” books. When we reach the end of our present, our current chapter, so to speak, we stand in a Room with Many Doors. Each door has a different future we could have. We always have so many options. Will we like them all? No. Of course not. But they are all there. For us. So many different paths we could choose. So many different decisions we could make. So many ripples that will spread out from making a single choice.

My initial dream was to continue on for my doctoral degree immediately following my master’s degree. I was accepted at several institutions for this: Texas A&M, Yale, University of North Texas. But then I found out I was expecting my first child and my entire world shifted. Suddenly, I was spinning on a new axis. I was going to have a baby. This was a new dream. A better dream. Something I didn’t know I wanted so much became what I wanted the most. The future I had thought about for so long was changing. Without knowing it, I had walked through a new door.

After I had my second child, Sam, I felt the bumps in the universe beginning. My husband and I decided to divorce a few months after Sam’s birth. A few weeks after that decision was made, my son died in his sleep. Suddenly, I had no future. It was gone. Wiped away. At least, that’s how it felt.

It was – most definitely – the end of my present. Every. single. day I made the conscious choice to walk back into the Room with Many Doors and, once again, chose to enter into the future. Every day I did that. After a while, I didn’t have to remind myself to do it. After a while, I didn’t have to tell myself to keep breathing.

We like to plan our future. It’s great to plan, to be prepared. It’s also important to know that plans don’t always work out the way you think they will. Sometimes the plan goes scarily, horrifyingly awry. Because your plan? Your original plan? That was only one possible future for you. I married the love of my life in 2004. It wasn’t part of the plan for him to die in 2005, but he did.

The future I planned changed. I didn’t give it permission to do that, and it changed anyway. So I was at the end of my present – again – and back in my Room with Many Doors. I had to walk through another door and into another future.

Life is not linear. The future offers us many chances, many options. When one doesn’t work out the way we planned, or the way we want it to, we have the chance to walk through another door. Too often, though, we become so attached to the picture we form in our head of what the future is supposed to look like that we find ourselves paralyzed when confronted with the need to change the image.

We have to remember that the future we plan is but one version of ourselves. Often we won’t know what other versions we are capable of until we are standing in the Room with Many Doors. We won’t know until the next door swings open.

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