“Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” –Bob Marley
Forrest Gump may have believed that “life is like a box of chocolates.” But life, I believe, is more like a book. It has a distinct beginning and a distinct ending. Yet it’s the “in-between” where all the good stuff happens. As our own protagonists, we move along our respective settings, interact with other characters, make choices and develop our plots. If we are really lucky, our conflicts aren’t terribly traumatic and there is happy resolution at the end. None of us is unique with respect to any of this. But the way we choose to write the in-between…ahhh, that’s what makes our stories interesting.
My story began more decades ago than I sometimes care to acknowledge. I don’t know when, where or what my final chapter will be, but I recently started thinking about my own life as a complete novel. And, when I consider it as a whole, I’m not altogether happy with my story. In the hopes that I’ve many chapters to go, I’ve come to realize that I need to sharpen my pencil, cut out extraneous editors and start creating a richer story. Writer Drew Chial said in an article recently “I will write until I’ve written the book I want to read.” In that same spirit, I want to live the life I want to write about.
For much of my life, I felt as if I were walking around in someone else’s daydream. A minor character in another person’s fiction. For some reason, I never really realized that I am the creator of my own story. Not beyond an intellectual recognition of it, anyway. Not in my soul. I very often waited for my story to begin, not realizing it already had. So I lived my life for others…but not in the noble Mother Theresa-esque way. No, I let others advise me on who I should be, how I should feel and what I should be doing. It’s no wonder, then, that I spent so much of my life unfulfilled. I was letting everyone else create my in-between. And they weren’t doing such a stellar job.
But, I’ve had an awakening these last several months: I have come to realize that I have my own gifts, my own interesting thoughts, my own voice. I have realized that I can be–that I am–the writer of my own brilliant story. This realization is liberating and intoxicating…it was also a long time coming. So, now I can hardly wait to tend to the in-between. To make each chapter dynamic and meaningful. To engage with compelling characters who give my story life, rather than with those who suck all of the life out of it. To make choices that bring me happiness, rather than regret. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t had any happiness or laughter in my life…it’s just that so much of it hasn’t really been MY happiness. It felt somehow borrowed, which made it difficult to hold onto. Now it’s time to seize my own days, rather than allowing them to seize me.
I am not the first person to have this epiphany, nor will I be the last. And hopefully, others will have learned this earlier in their lives than I did. But now that I am awake, I’m going to take control of the pen and write my in-between as though my life depends on it. Because it does.
I will will eat without guilt, travel just-because and indulge in the important act of daydreaming. I will let Little Man have ice cream for dinner on some random Thursday, because that is the recollection that will make us smile in 20 years. Not the Brussels sprouts. I will laugh loudly–and sometimes inappropriately–and I will speak freely. I will meet that friend for dinner, rather than reveiw that document yet again, because no one will ever die over a typo. But some day, that friend will die. I will decide for myself. And I will write because I love it, regardless of whether my words will ever find their way into The New Yorker.
Some friends may accuse me of becoming a kumbaya-chanting hippie, but I no longer mind. I’ve followed enough bad advice to know it gets me nowhere I want to be. I will live the life I want to write about. And maybe, I’ll just eat the box of chocolates. © Racheal Lee Bradford