I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not…I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.
Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

It is my twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. The stomach bug, on its rampage through our house since the day after Christmas, finally made it through the ranks to Stone today, torching our plans for a romantic evening out. After a week of sick kids I’ve already watched all of the movies on Netflix. So, like one does, I decided to clean out my desk.

When we built this house fourteen years ago, I designed my desk to be a vision of loveliness. It has shelves, a bulletin board, a dry-erase board, and wooden bins to hold papers, bills, envelopes, whatever. There’s a pull-out tray that houses my laptop, which folds back down when not in use, and all of this tucks in behind pretty doors so that when shut, it looks like a stylish cabinet. A monument of neatness. A shrine to organization. An altar of orderliness. You get the picture.

Except that things don’t always turn out like we plan. I wish I had taken a “before” picture so you could get the full effect, but of course at the time I wasn’t thinking about writing this. All I was thinking was what a mess! There were wires poking out everywhere–some still useful, some from devices-gone-by. An obsolete printer, pre-Pinterest cookbooks, syllabi from 2013, documents for our German exchange students, books I intended to read, and the Bible on cd-rom. All covered in dust. And along with all of this, two leather boxes full of kid paraphernalia I can’t stand to part with. So I collect it in things like leather boxes in my desk. Things like this:

Going through stuff like this is a double-edged sword for me. I love it because it takes me back to those moments in time–those people my children were–and how I loved them and enjoyed them. And I hate it because those moments are gone. Those people are gone. Adelaide knows how to spell “coffee” now, and Stella no longer draws me as a tick. My little boy, so full of wonder, is now a practical young man, and Grace–there in the taxi frame from VBS–is a young woman. Like Yoda says in the new Star Wars movie, “We are what they grow beyond.” That’s the joy and the terror of being a parent.

But it’s also just the joy and terror of being, isn’t it. Twenty-four years ago I was this:

And before that I was a child, a teenager, a college student. Since then I’ve been a law student, a teacher, a writer, and a cook in my own restaurant. I’ve buried a beloved grandmother. Lived in different places. Had four babies. Been a stay-home mom. Traveled around the world. Now I’m a professor. I’m middle-aged.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day in honor of her husband’s birthday. She highlighted major milestones in his life before her and then in their married life. They are several years down the road from me, with grandchildren my kids’s ages. It was interesting to read about who they were and what they had done before I met them. I’d never envisioned them that way. It got me thinking about all of the people all of us are. Like Whitman said, we contain multitudes.

Having your anniversary on New Year’s Eve provides the perfect context for reflection: where have I been? Where am I going? Or perhaps better: who have I been? Who am I becoming?

These are not questions to be answered fully in one blog post. But about marriage as well as life I think I can say this: things don’t always turn out just like we plan. Nevertheless, Love wins. Who I have been is someone imperfect at loving, who has held on, anyway, to the Love that holds on to me. And I hope I am becoming someone who loves my family and friends–as well as the whole world–better, stronger, kinder, and wiser in the new year.

Who would you like to become in 2018?

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