Okay, 12 pm yesterday (Saturday) found me performing invasive surgery on a box of granola bars whilst driving west down I-10 at 85 mph listening to Miles Davis. Headed home. For real this time. I didn't stop in Schertz.
I met Mom in northwest San Antonio at the salon where she was having her hair done. When she was finished, we went to visit an old neighbor that we hadn't seen in a while. After visiting with her for an hour, it was time to go to the reunion. But I made one more stop first. I had to see home. I can't drive up the driveway any more, without being weird and creepy, but I made the turn down that one lane, dead-end road.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but nothing had changed. The golden afternoon sunlight through the mesquite and cedar trees. The rusty old mail box and sagging barbed wire around the gate. I could even still see the old pile of unused bricks standing where it's been since the house was built... I took these pictures with my cell phone, cried a little, and drove on.
Our reunion was held in the Spirits Saloon in Rio Medina. I got there around 5:30 PM, and recognized about half the people in the room. And was recognized by about half. :-P Something about having had really long, blond hair in high school and having short, red hair now... I felt somewhat awkward the whole evening with the looking at people looking at me, wondering if we knew each other.
It was fun getting caught up with folks. But I also think I disappointed a few people...
Apparently technical writing is not the glorious future some of my classmates were pleased to imagine for me, Valedictorian and voted Most Likely to Succeed. On girl said, “Oh, wow. I would have thought you'd be a rocket scientist or something.” One of the guys said, “Man, I thought you were gunna find a cure for cancer!” And of course I had to field all of the “Didn't you get married?” questions. Sigh. When you put it that way, I don't really sound too successful. It all comes back to your expectations.
I guess I knew I might seem a little... lackluster... to my classmates. I just happen to know myself a better than they do. And I happen to know that not all really bright people become doctors or rocket scientists. Not all people with 1500+ SAT scores and perfect GPA's go on to change the world in conspicuous ways. Not all of us like rockets, after all. And not all incredibly smart decisions are, by that token, good decisions.
But I'm very glad I went to the reunion. It was fun to see how everyone had changed, or hadn't changed. And I had some great conversations. One of the most musically talented guys in the class immediately asked me if I was still playing my trumpet, and I was happy to say I played in three bands and sang in my church choir. It's a part of my life I'm very proud of, even if I don't make any money doing it and it tears my weekly free time into shreds. But it's fun, and it's a talent I haven't sacrificed to the career gods.
And I had a great time talking to a guy who does graphic design and layout for a small publication in San Antonio. He condoled with me about clients who want to change everything to Arial font to save space, and when I mentioned I'd really like to be an editor some day, he said it sounded like I'd be good at it. Heh, maybe there's hope for me impressing the masses at the 20 year reunion. :-P
So much for living up to my own legend. Fortunately I just don't measure life like that. My friend in graphic design did share something with me that would have made the entire thing worth going to, even if everything else had sucked. He told me how he still remembers, for whatever reason, a morning back in the summer of 1996, just after we'd all graduated. He was driving to work and listening to the radio, and my name caught his ear. Bob Berwick was calling in to the radio station just to say how proud he was of his daughter Laura, and to wish her luck in the coming fall, when she'd be going to Rice University.
I never knew about that. He never told me he'd done it, and I didn't hear it on the air. It's funny, but I'd always thought I'd disappointed him a little by not going to A&M. And maybe I did. And of all the people whose expectations come anywhere close to mattering, I can tell you, my dad is at the top of that list, right beside my mom, and the Medina Valley High School class of 1996 isn't on it. I always knew Daddy was proud of me, but hearing this... Maybe it seems like a small thing, but I can't say how much it made my evening, ten years after the fact. I'm so very grateful that my friend remembered it after all this time, and was able to tell me. It means the world.
Speaking of parents and expectations, I was thinking about this the other day. I met the father of a friend of mine, and he's a pretty impressive person, by my own brief estimation, and by all I hear. My friend asked if I had found him intimidating, and talked about how hard it could be to live up to a father like that. I actually didn't find him intimidating, and I think that's because he seems very good at what he does, which I definitely respect, but what he does is not what I do, and I have every confidence in my own ability to be formidable in my own field.
But I can imagine how frustrating it might be to have any sort of expectation that you would measure up to that, and just not feel like you will, for whatever reason. I know there have been times where I set expectations for myself that weren't realistic. That weren't who I was. And I failed. I set myself up for failure, and sure enough, I screwed some things up. In the end, it's a pretty futile exercise, so I'm doing things differently now.
I know my parents did have certain expectations. I told my mom once I thought it would be cool to be a truck driver. That might have been the only time in my life when my mother was not supportive. "You are NOT going to become a truck driver. You ARE going to college. And you're not doing that well in driver's ed, you know." Dude, I was just sayin'...
At the same time, my mom and dad both always said I could be anything I wanted to be. I always admired them for what they were good at. My grandfather was one of those impressive people, and I idolized him. But I've never felt compelled to live up to any of my family members. I do feel like I've gone beyond some of them in some ways, because of the opportunities I've been given. But in doing so, I was only fulfilling who I was, not trying to outdo anyone else.
Besides, for me, success isn't about who's heard of what I've done, or who I've equalled or surpassed. I finished reading Middlemarch by George Eliot earlier this month, and the very last passage really resonated with me.
“[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill for you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
I expect most of my acts to be unhistoric. I'm not an ambitious person, and I'm not an activist. I've always found it easier to change my own little habits and exchange deep thoughts with my close friends than to change how society does or sees anything. I might never write the great American novel, but I've been touched and humbled every time someone tells me that they like reading this blog. That something I said, or something I felt, spoke to them. If I in any small way make a difference to someone, that is success. And for myself I want to grow and learn and be touched by every person I meet. Those are my expectations.
And when it comes right down to it, those are the only expectations that matter: my own. What do I demand of myself? What do I want out of life? What do I need to do to be the absolute best ME I can be? Not what do I need to do to make money, though that is a needful thing. Not what do I need to do to impress my classmates at the 20 year reunion (that is not needful). Not what do I need to do to satisfy my mother, or heaven help me, my grandmother who doesn't like my hair and keeps saying how surprised she was that I got a divorce. Not even what do I need to do to honor the memory of my father.
No. What do I need to do to be proud of myself? To be happy with who I am and where I am? What do I owe to myself and no one else? Am I doing this?
The answer is yes, professionally, personally, in every aspect of my life. The result is I'm happy, in spite of the things I'm still working on. After all, life is not a destination. I will never arrive at something I can call my life. It's happening to me right now. I can't make it stop, and I can't hurry it along when it's not getting where I want to go fast enough. But I'm doing my best to make the most of the ride, and to me that means I'm a success, in spite of any misguidedly grandiose expectations there might be floating around for me out there.
But you know, I have friends that design rockets, and I have friends that study cures for diseases. If by being a friend to a person, I make their life easier, more fun, or in some small way let them know they are cared about, am I helping? Do I have a little hand in their great works? Is that what Eliot meant?
If so, then I'm all over that saving the world thing!