Monday, June 20, 2011

On choices and the course I've charted

I was in a friend's wedding this past weekend. I would have been six months pregnant exactly.

When I found out I was pregnant, in the little game of What If's that one imagines and plays out in her mind, I imagined calling my dear friend  J. to tell her: "I am sorry. I can't be your bridesmaid. I can't stand up there at the alter with you with my belly bursting out of that lovely eggplant purple dress you chose for me." I imagined drinking water while my friends toasted champagne. I imagined sitting at a table while my friends danced. I imagined that maybe I wouldn't go to the wedding at all. I imagined that I might wind up quickly married before my friends' long-planned wedding, that I might be moving in with my boyfriend during that wedding weekend instead, that I might be painting a baby's room in some tiny city apartment.

What if, what if, what if.

But instead, this is what happened:

I stood at the alter as two of my best friends joined in union as a couple. I was not pregnant and I was not married. I toasted them with champagne, and I danced to every song the band played. I was happy. Overwhelmingly so.

But still, there are moments. There was a woman at this wedding--a friend of the couple. She sang during the ceremony. She was 15 weeks pregnant.

At the rehearsal dinner, friends crowded her and touched her emerging belly and awed. She was only one week further along than where I had been when I had the abortion. My mind raced, and a lump rose in my throat. I walked away, took photos of some of the tables with the camera I had brought to help my friends document their weekend and got caught up in a long conversation with friends. Without too much effort, I breathed through my feelings of sadness, I grounded myself, I returned to my table for dessert, and I was fine.

That's what things are like these days. I think about the What If's, but I don't let them occupy too much real estate in my mind. They're there, and that's fine. Something would be wrong with me, I might be dealing unhealthily or repressing, if they weren't.

I recently stumbled upon a fabulous advice blog called Dear Sugar. Sugar responded to one letter writer who asked how he should know if he wants children, quoting a beautiful poem by Tomas Transtörmer:
'Tranströmer’s narrator is capable of seeing his life for what it is while also acknowledging the lives he might have had. “The sketches,” Tranströmer writes, “all of them, want to become real.” The poem strikes a chord in me because it’s so very sadly and joyfully and devastatingly true. Every life, Tranströmer writes, “has a sister ship,” one that follows “quite another route” than the one we ended up taking. We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: the people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are.'
It's a stunning image, that sister ship setting course in a different direction. But the choices we make set us on the course we take. 'Thank you for this life!,' his narrator exclaims. And that is the wonderful thing: We can shout our gratitude both to the void for the beautiful improbability of our existence and to ourselves for making the choices we have to define our lives.