you have to keep moving forward

you have to keep moving forward

It is the night before our college graduation.  We gather on the porch of our apartment, boyfriends ditched for the moment, to imprint one more indelible memory.

I grab paper and pen and quickly build out a MASH (Mansion-Apartment-Shack-House) board.

Marriage options?  I ask, pointing to one of my best friends.  We call out names, recalling epic past crushes, honoring present partners, and throwing in someone terribly inappropriate for laughter, groans, or one more wash of embarrassment.

We continue with other categories: number of children, where we will live, careers, cars we will drive, ailments we will suffer (our irreverent humor at 22 not caring that we might be tempting the fates) and more.  And then we laugh our way through each one of our findings.

You are going to marry Alex and live in a shack in Bolivia (keep in mind that MASH does not know or care about what countries are landlocked) with your 5 children where you will be a surf instructor suffering from a goiter who drives a Volkswagen Thing.

We double over laughing at our predictions until the music calls us out into the night to say goodbye to our classmates, to dance one more time with those loves we have that we think we’ll end up marrying (our MASH results be damned), to whisper goodbye to this life and hello to the one we are transitioning into, to say see you later to each other.


Almost twenty years later, we gather every spring for a couple days to catch up.  In our hearts and heads, we are still 22, still girls just trying to find our way, still so fresh-faced and naïve and vulnerable.  And, yet, we are acutely aware that while we still feel like those girls, we are no longer them.  It startles us to realize how some 20 year old must see us today.  As old, adult, boring.  But you never saw my MASH board, we want to tell them.   The possibility and irreverence and crazy, crazy love captured there are our underpinnings.


This year, we have gathered in Washington DC for our two lightning fast days together.  On our full day together, we walk the monuments, taking in FDR, Eleanor, and Thomas J., and Martin.  And it is there, in front of Martin Luther King Junior’s memorial, our mouths gaping at the exquisite rendering that something clicks into place.

Isn’t it incredible to think that all that good he did was in his thirties?  Lylen asks.

Later, we are sitting around once more, not unlike how we did years ago on our apartment porch, our conversation meandering from base to brilliant, irreverent to vulnerable, our confessions coming in short order until we begin to admit that at this point in our lives, we thought that we would be somewhere else already.  Not geographically, necessarily, but in our careers, in our accomplishments, in our impact.  We are startled at the way that family crises and children have uprooted us, knocked us straight off our feet not for minutes or moments or months but for years.

We look at each other, shocked that the other feels this way.  We label her accomplishments.  We tell her what we don’t think she’s seeing and, yet, we know that while we each see what the other is saying, we also see what the 22 year old us saw and we know there is this part inside of us that calibrates just how upending family tragedy or turmoil has been for us and it is keeping score against what we thought could happen by now.

I tell them how my students always write in their body image autobiographies that their vision is ‘simply’ to do better than their parents, to have it easier than their parents.  And I tell them how it is such a bittersweet thing for me to read—sweet because I am so touched by what they perceive as their simple desire and bitter because I remember being right where they were and then, here I am, twenty years later, startled at how hard life is, how much it asks of you, how we don’t know that asking for the simplest things—a better, easier life than our parents had—is actually asking for everything.

And, then, after we have told each other over and over again, I didn’t know you were going through that, I didn’t know you felt that way, I am so sorry, I am so proud of you, we recalibrate.

There are {hopefully} so many years left in our lives.  There is time left to do the good we are meant to do in this world.  There is time left to take ourselves and our dreams to the next level.  And, this time, we get to do it with an awareness of how incredibly strong we are, with a deep appreciation not just for what we have weathered but how what we weathered made us better.

We name what we are thinking about for our futures, not like we are playing MASH and tempting the fates to choose for us what we will have in our lives, but like we are owning our personal power and choosing for ourselves.  We let our twenty-two year old selves go and welcome our truth, our experience, our amazing present self to the forefront, inviting her to do whatever it is she wishes without the pressure of expectations that exist in a vacuum and while standing upon the scaffolding that a beautiful yet difficult well-lived life builds.

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