Sunday, September 30, 2007

The shape of lives

We have choices in every moment. I decide what time to get up, I decide when to leave for work, I decide what route to drive, I decide what to eat for breakfast. These are the mundane choices of my life on weekday mornings.

And there are choices like whether or not to accept a dinner invitation, to go to a party with a friend even if I know no one else who will be there, to volunteer with an organization, to attend a reading by a favorite author at Barnes and Noble. And some times I choose to stay in, give myself a facial, shut off my phone, get out my yoga mat, and light a candle.

I am becoming particularly conscious of my decisions to do, or not to do, things. Mostly because there are a million options in New York, and I have a great crew of friends here to do things with. And so sometimes my calendar is overly stuffed with activities. I struggle with this. I wear myself out over it. I have a hard time saying no to doing something fun for the sake of getting to bed early or just staying in to take time for myself. I am terrified of missing out, even if I don't have the foggiest idea what I may be missing out on. I like hearing stories, and to hear stories, we must get out there in the world and listen and move and be open to taking it all in.

Flora Whittemore was an author and historian, the oldest living citizen of Caribou County, Idaho. Surprisingly little info is available about her. The only information I could find on her seems to suggest that she lived to a ripe, old age. Which is to say I believe she discovered more about life than I have thus. Yet, she is quoted for one very simple sentence on hundreds of web pages. The very simple wisdom that "The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live." It's about choices.
I have this terrible habit of thinking that life happens to me. Quotes like Ms. Whittemore's snap me back to reality. It doesn't happen to me. I choose to open and close opportunities and meetings and experiences, and those choices have shaped my life, made it possible for me to have this life. Life didn't happen to me; rather, I made my life happen. And while that's scary if I really think about it - I own all of the success, and also all the failures, of my life - it's also quite empowering to think that my simple, everyday choices create what collectively becomes my life.

Now, the enormity of this opening and closing of doors could be daunting, even paralyzing. I hate shutting doors truly. I think, well if I just leave this door, this option open a bit longer, maybe something incredible will come of it, so I better not turn away just yet. What the quote doesn't bring to light is that leaving each of the doors open takes some energy, some amount of time. And our lives have a set amount of time. We have a limited amount of energy, even the most energetic of us.

I think about it in terms of a financial investment - if we perfectly hedge, then net net we come out even, no loss, but no gain either. Leaving doors open is the same way. If we never close a door, then we never have the time or energy to open new ones and play out the option behind each to its full potential. To be sure the opening and closing can be joyful and painful, and sometimes, it's both. In case, often it's both.

I recently rediscovered a CD I have loved for years - Hymns from the 49th parallel by k.d. lang. my favorite track is "Love is everything." It's also about opening and closing doors. She talks about a love that she gave her all to, and then ultimately had to give up. "Love was everything they said it would be. Love makes sweet and sad the same....I can't wait for you to make the whole kingdom come, so I'm leaving."

Opening and closing doors is a deeply personal decision, and I would argue that it is the most important thing we ever do. Whether it's about a job, about love, about friendship, about where we live. Big and small choices. Decision making is an art that cannot be cultivated enough. We are sculptors, photographers, painters, dancers. And the body of our work is played out everyday in who we are, where we go, and how we spend our time.

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