It happened the other day when I was driving. A flash of memory. Of course, there was a song involved but I honestly can't remember which one right now, since the melody was more like a catalyst to the memory rather than the essence of it. Suddenly, I was in high school, senior year, and I needed to make my college choice. Would it be Ohio Wesleyan with its small, close knit student body, quintessential collegiate setting of ancient trees and miles of sidewalks, and the presence one of the coolest cats to ever grace the halls of my high school who chose this college the year before? Or would it be Colorado College with its euphoric Rocky Mountain backdrop, unique block system of classes and money back guarantee that I would have dread locks before I graduated? What about Northeast Missouri State University (now known as Truman University) with its gargantuan student population, stuck-in-a-cornfield setting, and healthy scholarship if I agreed to stay in Missouri and teach? Or would it be Emory University with its marble and red tile quadrangle buildings, its Driving Miss Daisy setting, and its water fountains that flowed with Coca-Cola?
I really could see myself at each location. It was both liberating and paralyzing to see how each school had something to offer me, something that would engage and inspire some part of who I was. And, somehow, at the tender age of 17, I was supposed to figure out which facet of my being should be polished the most, which elemental characteristic of mine should be distilled further. No pressure.
How should I do this? Should I think about who I wanted to be, who I thought I should be after I graduated from college...and go with the school that seemed most capable of making that happen? Or did I go with the school that called out more to who I was at the moment, or at least, who I thought I was at the moment? And how, at 17, was I even supposed to know the difference? Again, no pressure.
It was in that place of suspended existence that I stayed for awhile. And it wasn't long before I found myself on a "what if?" and "what could have been?" rat wheel that, left unchecked, had the power to undo me. Because those are the kind of questions that can cut to the quick and fly straight to the rawest, most sensitive places. And, even scarier... in hindsight, did I make the right choice?
If I had chosen Ohio Wesleyan, would I have sought out the one person that went before me, whom I idolized, and try to fit into his theater crowd? Would I have chosen to major in Elementary Education, a decision that I was completely on the fence about and about which I was paying way more attention to how I would be perceived because of that choice rather than listening to what my heart was telling me? Would I have stayed in Ohio after graduation and become an official Ohioan, like my dad? I have since met lots of other folks from Ohio, all of whom were very cool and so, it begs the follow up question: would I have become very cool, too?
If I had chosen Colorado College, would I have embraced my inner hippy and still be wearing tinkling ankle bracelets while I shopped for organic vegetables at the market? Would I have discovered that one passion that defined me while I was taking those intense block classes, holed up on a mountainside for a month at a time? Would I be closer to my older brother if I had chosen to be the one family member that relocated closer to him in the West? Would I have had a stronger bond with my 17 year old nephew and, thus, could he have been with me that dreadful night in January instead of being struck down and killed on the streets of Denver?
If I had chosen NEMO (Northeast Missouri State/Truman University), would I have kept many of the same friends from high school, migrating along with them to a new location where we would have joined up with other familiar faces that had gone before? Would I have been able to break away when I started to discover that I felt differently about the role of faith in my life than I had all the years that they had known me? What does it feel like to not "go away" and, instead, simply segue to a different place in the same musical composition you've already been a part of?
And then I thought about what I did choose--I chose Emory. And I really don't think I am saying this to justify my choice but...I believe that I chose Emory because, on the day that I took that campus tour, I felt something stir deep. Something that I couldn't quite put my finger on, exactly, but that reverberated in every hollow and rabbit hole within me. I know,now, that it was deep calling to deep, the hushed whisper of the Holy Spirit, but at the time, it was more about what felt right. I walked through the Quad, I smelled long and deep the potpourri of pine and magnolia, I spied on the library spaces with a mixture of fear and awe, and I sat on a bed in the very dorm that I would move into my freshman year and...I could somehow see me there. The full version of me. Not a fragmented or splintered me. All of me.
Somehow, all of who I was and saw myself becoming came together in that place. And I knew this because all of what was familiar to me hummed knowingly and all that was unknown called to me. Who I would be when I left there seemed still a mystery and made all of the other possible places seem utterly predictable. There was potential here rather than probability.
But I guess we are never fully free of the things we didn't choose, are we? Because, the very fact that we turned from one decision informs the reality of what we did choose. I am who I am today because of the existence of those other choices that I could have made. And so that is why they linger. That is why they hang out there in the universe, latent but unrealized, veiled but unexpressed. And whatever it was that made them potential choices in my life at one time, all of their collective je ne sais quoi, actually means they still had a part in shaping me.
So when I think about how, even though I went on to get certified in Secondary Education and teach older students, I now homeschool my 7 and 9 year old...well, that's the Ohio Wesleyan in me. And when I muse over how, if money wasn't an issue, I would love to live on land in a mountain valley, have goats and chickens and pigs and most likely have a membership with Greenpeace...well, that's the Colorado College in me. And when I see pictures on Facebook of all the folks that I graduated with who never left Webster Groves, still live there with their own families and whose 4th of July celebrations look straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting..well, that's the Northeast Missouri State in me.
All of those things can co-exist with the me that I am as a result of having chosen Emory.
And when I look around at this life I have...with my amazing husband, my incredible kids, and my hodge-podge of personal work experience (all of which I have enjoyed)...well, it's all good. And, it's all me.