Saturday, June 28, 2008

Along For the Ride

I recently downloaded Dave Edmunds' "Girls Talk" onto my IPod, and the song came around in rotation while I was on the airplane returning home from a week in and around Portland, Oregon. "Girls Talk" always makes me think of the Indigo Girls, who used to sing the song back when they were mixing covers and originals and playing in bars around Atlanta--back when I was young and single and aimless, following the Girls from bar to bar and sitting in the corner with my bourbon, wondering where life was going to take me, and when it was going to start.

While in Portland, I had dinner with my cousin and his wife in a funky old neighborhood that reminded me so strongly of the artsy Atlanta neighborhoods where I used to live back in those days. Old houses painted funky colors, with wind chimes hanging everywhere and comfortable old furniture crowding dilapidated porches. Even the weather was conducive to moody reminiscence--grey, cool, and cloudy.

There I was, a man in his mid forties, with a wife and children at home, feeling the stirrings of an entirely different person inside of me--an alien life form. Because I'm not that person now, and yet I was that person once.

After dinner, walking back to my rental car, I peered into the windows of the funky old houses and imagined the people who lived there--people like my bike-riding, environment-protecting young cousin and his friends--people like the writers and actors and artists I once knew--people like the me I once was and thought I would continue to be. Maybe, in some alternate universe, Younger Me continued on the same path and wound up in a house just like these. With every life-altering choice we make, perhaps some part of us, in some dimension of thought, continues on and grows along the path we had been on.

Frost reminds us how way leads on to way, making it impossible to go back to the forks in the road where we once made choices, and it's true. There are so many forks, and so many ways--so many earlier selves we leave behind when we set off on new roads. And yet we carry those earlier selves along with us, as well. They are part of who we are, and are no longer who we are, both at the same time.

I'm not saying I regret any of the choices that led me from way to way. You can only be who you are at any given point in your life, and you make the best decisions you can. Some of them are wise and some of them are stupid, but, you know...c'est la vie. The idea of "if I could just go back and do it all again" is nonsense. You'd do all the same things--because those are the things that you did, and you cannot be anyone other than you. You do what you do. You did what you did. And "if I could go back and do it all again, knowing what I know now" is even worse. If you knew then what you know now, you wouldn't actually be you, then. You'd be some different person, who knew different things. Part of what makes you you is the choices you make, day to day. What you do makes you who you are.

But that doesn't mean I don't gaze back over my shoulder from time to time and feel the tug of a past life stirring inside me, pulling me back into memory and wonder. There's a whole crowd in there, which is kind of nice. It makes the internal dialogue more interesting. I'm glad I was each of those people in turn, and not one unchanging, monotonous drone from cradle to grave. And I'm glad to know that the people I have been do not really disappear--that they're all still along for the ride.

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