Next week will be my 62nd birthday. I remember not long ago thinking that was old. Some days it does feel old and other days I forget. I like those days. I was thinking about the longevity of the women in my family. My paternal grandmother was 93 when she died. My maternal grandmother was 89 and my mother was just one month shy of her 89th birthday. I hope that those genes passed down to me because I was thinking my mother was ONLY 27 years older than me. Considering how fast these 62 years have gone by, what can I expect from having only 27 years left? Younger people will think that’s a crazy thought and that’s ok. I used to also. Those my age and older see the headlights of a freight train barreling down the track at high speed like I do.
I was looking at pictures of myself the other day, some as a child, a teen, and some as a young woman. I stared at the pictures. I found myself searching the face in the photo for signs of who she was then. It was like looking at a different person. She was so bright eyed. Cute, bordering on pretty. Big smiles in all of them. The younger version was so shy. The older version was a little more confident and it showed in her body language, but still so innocent. Neither had any idea of what the future held. No idea the decisions and choices that would be made. The little girl wanted to grow up, get married, and have six kids just like her mom. That’s all. In her mind, that was the ideal. The teen wanted to be a psychologist and help people and hopefully, someday, meet the man of her dreams and have that family. She still battled shyness and tried not to stand out. She worked hard to get good grades and to never disappoint her parents. For the most part, she succeeded.
I moved on to pictures of myself in uniform in basic training. I can see a difference now. I was thinner than ever with a determined look in my eyes. I remember that day well and how I was thinking that I could keep going because I’d made it this far. I was tougher. I had been challenged in ways I never thought I would be. This was the girl who had moved on from her childhood and knew she was on her own. She was still very young, only 17, but had a much better sense of self and abilities. When I came to my wedding album, this is where I could really notice that the girl had become a woman. A woman in love. A woman filled with the promise of a good life. I was ready to take on the world and take it on, I did.
The man I married that day was the man I have spent the rest of my life with and had a family. We had three children, six was a little unrealistic for us. We worked together building a life, making homes for us and the kids, turning some dreams into reality and others waiting to happen. He wasn’t my “type” as if I really knew what that was back then. He was good, honest and faithful. We had nothing except love in the beginning, and I imagine, it’s all we will have in the end. But all that stuff in between? Those girls had no clue. The woman in the wedding pictures? Well, she thought she knew. The woman I am now and the woman I will be in 27 years probably won’t recognize each other either. That’s going to be another life, another time.
It was good that the young girl and the teen didn’t know what would happen in 20 or 30 years. She might not have tried so hard or loved so much or accomplished what she did. Or maybe she would have thought she was never enough. She might have given up. Each new thing that happened either made her stronger or taught her a lesson. She got over her shyness completely. She suffered a broken heart a few times, learned what it was like to love her children more than life itself, and to commit to life’s adventures with one special guy. These things weren’t learned alone. There was no solo journey. It was filled with people who came and went, some who stayed, some who had no choice but to hold on for the ride, and some whose journeys ended before hers.
So, when I look at this girl, this young woman, I think who was she? She lacked experience and drama, hard times and disappointment, anger and wisdom. She was beautiful, inside and out. She was only the beginning. She was the whisper of what was to come. The changes, who she loved, the hurt, the pain, the situations she would find herself in, would flesh her out. It shows in today’s photographs. The lines in my face, my body shape, the gray in my hair, the knowing eyes all molded that young girl into this person. Sure, there are things I would like to improve about myself and things I have yet to do. And when I am 89 years old, I will remember this woman for not quitting. I will remember her strength, her determination, her willingness to risk her life for those she loved, and how she was still hard on herself despite all of these attributes, because the little girl is still there, waiting for more to happen. In the end, I will again ask, “Who was she?”