I have a stack of journals that span my collegiate years that I have never opened since I wrote the last page in them and then put them away. I was such an earnest and tender girl then and I fear that rereading my thoughts during that time might just break my heart a little and so I don’t. Except for Sunday night, I just walked over to the place where they live, pulled them out, and started reading them before I even knew what I was doing. Sure enough, there was plenty to choke me up and touch my heart and, well, overwhelm my senses.
And then there was this, on a back page of a journal I kept throughout 1995, a journal that has this Helen Keller quote on the cover: “Avoding Danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” A journal where I wrote that my philosophy was ” Do not be concerned with how things leave you. Be concerned with how you leave things.” And followed that up with “Youth is that time where you dream that dream, believe in it, and take it to fruition. It can take a long time to become young. But the moment that one loosens up, dreams big, chooses uncertainty, believes in his or her own personal magic, and acts in the name of love is when one becomes young. This truth can be seen in a boy of 16 or a woman of 80.” In that journal was this short little list titled Dream List/ Things I Want to Do. On that list, you find 6 things. Clearly I only visited that page once becuase that’s a list I could have made miles long, even then.
I look at that list now and both marvel and feel zero surprise over the first thing that I wrote on it as a 21 year old girl. Adopt a child. I had wanted to adopt since I was in seventh grade (well, I didn’t want to adopt as a seventh grader; it was in seventh grade that I knew that was the way that I would become a parent in this world) and so it’s no surprise that given the task of writing that list, that was the first thing that came to mind.
The rest of the list is totally who I was at 21, too– filled with earnest desire to see the world.
Number 2 on the list: see whales in their natural environment (scratched that off a few years ago off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine). Whales are still one of my favorite creatures.
Travel with a band. I was the concert booker at my college for several years which was perfect for my love of music. I loved the music life so much that I often dreamed about hopping in the van of one of the bands I booked and not looking back. The practical me, instead, signed a contract to teach right out of college. I only have two regrets from my youth and one of them is that I started life so immediately after college. I wish I had hopped in the back of the van with one of those bands. Don’t bother reminding me of this regret when Happy hits 22. The kid will not get in the back of anyone’s van.
Drive across the country. Also, never fully did (sure, I took long road trips but what I was imagining here was the epic trip to the West Coast and back) and wish I had. Again, I was way too responsible about being gainfully employed at all times and always working, reading, or preparing for work. Wish I’d taken the time to go west in the Freshcort with the fabulous AC. These days, BF talks all the time about retiring to an RV and I have zero interest. But put me in an old car with very few amenities, and I’ll drive cross-country with you in a minute.
Publish a book. Check. Back then, I would have sworn that if I were a writer it would be poetry or fiction. I was terrified to write non-fiction. Two non-fiction books later, I do find myself these days really thinking about fiction.
Teach and travel in Africa. Well, half of that has been done (thanks to item #1 on the list), and there is still the possibility that maybe the other half of that item on the list will happen one day.
On the other side of that page was a “happy” list that I started (likely on the same day): s’mores, crickets chirping (I still love the racket of insects on a summer night), hugs that last, calls from old friends (I guess that’s the equivalent of a surprise Friend request on Facebook these days?), wild flowers, colorful leaves, pleasure reading, mixed tapes (today’s IPod playlists), walking on the beach at night, lazy Saturdays with best friends (my college roommate and I used to go buy an angelfood cake at the local grocery and eat it for breakfast and lunch on said lazy Saturdays), good cries, dolphins at sea, gooey chocolate chip cookies, the sound of children at play.
I’m not sure how much of this journal I will go back and read– it was the year that I lost my first student to murder and her obituary and my raw, raw feelings about it are there. It was the year that a girl I mentored was actively trying to get pregnant so that someone would love her. It was the year that I was working with gangs and at a school for extremely violent youth. So it was an intense time, but it was also the time that most shaped me. And it was a time that stripped everything else away, leaving me with clarity about the simple things that made me happy and the things that would bring me joy in the future.