Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Fifteen Years

I can remember a day when I was 15 years old, sitting on my bedroom floor and writing in my journal. I was upset about something I can no longer recall; no doubt some kind of teenage-related angst that would seem terribly insignificant to me now.

As I scribbled out my frustrations, I remember stopping for a moment, closing my eyes and leaning back against my bed. I envisioned myself 15 years into the future. I would be 30 years old. I would be an independent woman, capable and confident and free to make my own decisions. I would have finished college and graduate school, and would be well into the start of my career. Hopefully I'd be married, perhaps even with a young child or two. My life would be filled with travel and adventure, as well as the mundane but simple things that make life so spectacular. I'd wake up excited to go to work each morning or stay home to care for my children. My husband and I would be sharing in the pride of our new life together. We'd be celebrating holidays with friends and family in our own home, making new traditions as we created what was sure to become an abundance of cherished memories.

Perhaps, in my somewhat young naivety, this vision of my future was a bit overly simplistic in its perfection. Certainly, my life would not be without problems. However, I still can recall the tremendous sense of peace that vision gave me. Whatever troubles I had in the present moment would then be long forgotten. Life would be sweet, and everything would turn out fine.

Unfortunately, though, that's not quite how things happened. At 30, not only was I not married with children, but I wasn't dating. I was not establishing myself in my career, but instead was forced to apply for long term disability. Far from independent, I required assistance with virtually all tasks of daily living. I had already been ill for six long years, and essentially bedridden for nearly two. I could barely speak above a whisper. The only traveling I did was making short trips to the bathroom and kitchen a few times a day, and those few steps were quite a feat for me (they are steps I can no longer take). The memories being created were not of cherished moments, but of struggle and frustration within the four walls of my small apartment as I lay in solitary confinement.

I often wonder now, what I would have thought had I known in that moment, at 15 years old, the truth of how my life would turn out. What would I think now, if I knew the truth of where my life would be 15 years from this moment?

When I think of that young, sweet, innocent 15 year old girl, full of hope and longing, with endless goals and dreams, I want to tell her I'm sorry. I want to tell her I'm sorry for what she did not know would become so many lost opportunities, so many lost dreams, and so many lost hopes. I want to tell her I'm sorry for all the pain she would soon endure, the endless days of sickness that would grow into months and years without a single moment of genuine reprieve. I'm sorry for the paucity of answers that would be offered to her, the absence of a real treatment for any of her symptoms, and the overwhelming frustrations she would face in battling such an all consuming, devastating, and invisible disease. Perhaps most of all, I want to tell her that I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to protect her.

Of course, I want to tell her, too, that despite things not unfolding how she planned, some parts of her story did turn out okay. She still found love with an extraordinary man. She still has many things she can list as accomplishments, even if they aren't the types of things she'd have previously realized or appreciated as such. She still has countless memories and blessings to cherish, close friends and family, and many things about which she can feel very proud. Even when severely limited, life can still have its moments of joy. It can still be fulfilling.

It's now been eight years since my 30th birthday. It won't be long now before I'm 40. If you were to ask me how I envision my future 15 years from today, I would admit I'm not quite as confident in what I see. Life, I've learned, is uncertain. But somehow I still hold that same vision of myself I conjured up so many years ago, and I remain hopeful it is a vision that will someday fully become a reality. It may come much later than I had anticipated, but it may still come. That 15 year old girl still lives inside me, and she is not yet willing to let go of her dreams.