(Warning: This one is a little sappy.)
Today has been a pretty good day.
Things went fairly well at work; we didn’t get Milestone 1 out today like we’d hoped, but we’re darned close. Then Jennie called me and said we needed to take Noel, our youngest cat, to the vet to make sure she’s okay (she’s put on quite a bit of weight in the week or so she’s been on medication, and has been kind of listless).
Noel didn’t mind getting into the cat carrier, but she really didn’t want to come back out of it once we were in the exam room at the vet’s office. After we had managed, with difficulty, to extricate her, she just sat there on the steel table, all huddled and pitiful, for the ten minutes or so until the vet came in to check her out. I just kept petting her and reassuring her and trying to soothe her, not quite sure if I was really doing any good or not. She didn’t make a sound the whole time we were there.
As it turns out, she’s fine. The vet checked her out to make sure the weight gain was normal, and not fluid buildup or anything like that, and then recommended that we cut the dose of her meds. When it was time to go back home, I wasn’t too surprised that Noel was again willing to get into the cat carrier.
And I must have been more worked up than I’d realized. I was pretty tense on the way home, probably from seeing how scared Noel was in the vet’s office. I was downright jittery. I lucked out on music, though — after a few repeated loops through the 17 radio stations I listen to on a regular basis (really — I just counted them), I hit one that was playing “Walking in Memphis”. Today, that was what I needed. Mellow, but raw and powerful. We’ve had the CD for years, and there’s some great stuff on there; it’s long been a staple on roadtrips. He writes real music, not the fluff that’s most of what’s out there. Music with some real soul. Fluff has its place, but sometimes you need the real stuff. It helped.
It was a beautiful night out, so after I got home, I put on long sleeves and went out for a walk. I’ve been doing this, long walks in the night air, since my high-school days, and it can really help clear my mind and let me shake off the stress of the day. Doesn’t always work if there’s too much stress already, which has been the case for altogether too long now, but tonight was good. Like I said, it’s been a pretty good day.
As I walked, I found myself thinking about all sorts of things: neighborhoods back home in Cedar Rapids; the playground at my elementary school; Halloweens come and gone; the smell of the dew in the morning on the summers I went to camp. And I thought about a class assignment back in high school English class.
I’m not quite sure why I remember this particular assignment, after more than ten years. It was an in-class exercise; everyone wrote down what they would have to do to consider their life a success, and then we went around and shared what we’d written.
I could have said I’d consider my life a success if I had a six-figure income, or if I owned a fancy house. I could have said I wanted to own a horse (but I wouldn’t have; I’ve been to horse ranch camp, and I found out that horses are a lot of work). I could have said I wanted to be a policeman, or a pilot, or an astronaut, or President of the United States. I could have said I wanted to be a published writer, or a well-known musician. I could have said I wanted to own my own business. I could have said I wanted to be a famous inventor. I could have said I wanted to get a part in a stage play. I could have said I wanted to win marksmanship trophies, in firearms and/or bow-and-arrow. I could have said I wanted to go hang-gliding at least once. I could have said I wanted to find a church that I felt comfortable in. I could have said I wanted to get married, settle down, and raise happy, well-adjusted kids.
I could have said any of those things, and those, in fact, were generally the sorts of things that the other people wrote. Those are all things I’ve wished for at some point or other, and that’s not counting childhood fantasies (well, I guess astronaut and President were probably childhood fantasies, but the rest are for real). I’ve even, at this point in my life, achieved a whopping two of them: I’m happily married, and I’ve found a great church where people believe things that make sense.
But somehow, I didn’t approach the assignment from that angle. That happens to me sometimes, where I come at something from a funky viewpoint without even realizing I’m doing it (and then wonder why it’s turning out to be so hard).
I don’t remember the words that I wrote, but it was something along these lines: I will consider my life a success if I give it a good shot. If I stand up for what I believe in. If I can look back and not be ashamed of the choices I’ve made.
I remember feeling kind of silly when the other people read theirs. Oh, I thought. Yeah. That’s what the assignment was really supposed to be. Where did I come up with this?
Part of why I wrote what I did is that life is short. I don’t want to say “I won’t consider my life to be successful unless I’m a published writer”, because if I died tomorrow, then my life would have been a failure. Which is so obviously wrong that it never even occured to me to write anything of the sort.
But even knowing that, I felt kind of silly at the time.
For some reason, that assignment wandered back into my memory tonight. And I think, looking back, that really, I was on the right track. And all things considered, I think I still am.