I've been unpacking the last of the boxes that were in storage in Florida and today I came across one that was filled with pictures taken ten years ago. The pictures actually made me laugh as I looked at myself posed in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy, looking so earnest and trying so hard to appear fashionable because I’d recently lost fifty pounds and thought the new skinny me in my new wardrobe would be my key to happiness. And it was in some respects, I had a great time. Yet it was still the same old me inside, with all of the same old insecurities.
As I looked at those pictures, I wondered: do we ever grow up? Do we ever really change over the years?
I guess the reason this is on my mind is because I just turned 49, which is one of those momentous numbers. It means that for the next 364 days, I will be obsessing about turning 50, which seems so much older than my forties ever did.
When I was younger I always looked to the future and thought of the things I would accomplish and how different I would be at some future date. Like when I ‘grew up’. As I looked at those pictures of me, then considered the row of journals that sit on my bookshelf spanning the course of twenty five years of my life, and as I unpacked that beautiful white lingerie that I bought fifteen years ago to wear on the wedding night that never happened (It's a stunning white silk gown and robe with sleeves trimmed with white boa feathers.) I realized that really, despite all the milestones that come with age, we don’t actually change the core of who we are. Like, when I run into college friends on Facebook, no matter how I think I’ve changed, to them I'm still the goofy girl I was back in university.
When I lived in New York and worked on Wall Street, I imagined the pinnacle of my life would be when I turned 45 and I pictured myself riding to the office each morning in the back of a limousine, wearing a full-length mink. Today, that would be my idea of Hell. Well, maybe I’d still take the full-length fur in all of its inappropriate glory, but I’d wear it with with a pair of jeans and the beautiful black cowboy boots I bought in the men’s department of our local thrift store.
I never became that woman I thought I wanted to be. Instead, I did something completely different. While I have finally realized many of the things I hoped for and still fallen short on others that remain elusive, what I find the most disconcerting is that inside, I am still the uncertain young girl I thought I'd eventually outgrow. I always thought that with time and accomplishing my goals, all those fears and insecurities would somehow melt away and with age I would become more confident. But I haven’t evolved into something different than I was back then. I’m still Suzanne, with all my over blown self-doubt, my fear that no one likes me, that I’ll always fall short no matter how hard I try, that I am neither talented nor feminine enough to be the popular girl. And I wonder what's the point of the journey if we can never escape that person we wanted to change: no matter how much we accomplish or how far we travel from where we first began?
Just when I think I’ve found a great truth, and decided that the best course is to simply aim a little lower, I instead discover something that turns my conclusion on its head.
Recently my mother has begun to cook, something she never exhibited the patience or interest in for the first eighty-three years of her life. Then this past weekend she picked up my old battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decided she was going to try a few recipes. And she, who has been willingly displaced from her home like Naomi from the Biblical book of Ruth, who chugs along on a heart that operates at fifty percent of its capacity, has created a new life for herself here and found a grace and contentment that she never had before. What she seems to know instinctively (she's always been a woman of action, rather than the self-absorbed navel gazing that I excel in) is how to make the most of where you are geographically and spiritually. And as a result, her life is much richer.
While I toss and turn at night, wracked with insomnia over my worries about the friends who won't come to dinner, the snow that didn't fall in Evergreen, the book that I will rewrite again though it’s already ten years in the making, she has found peace in who she is now. While I still doubt that I will ever grow up or become the person I thought I'd be, I hope that I will eventually know her contentment with who I've always been.