Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Roads Not Taken

In this long road that we know as "life" we find many opportunities to choose one road over another.  (If you're riding with Mike Blackford, you'll always choose the unpaved road, but that's another story.)   Sometimes it's good to look back and see those roads not taken and wonder what might have happened if you had made different choices.

The first road choice that I remember making was back in grammar school.  I had to decide which school I would choose for high school.   If I were in the public school system, I would go to whichever school was designated for my address, but as a Catholic school kid, I had choices of various Catholic high schools across the city.

For me, it was a choice of St. Vincent's or Presentation.   Presentation was the bigger school, more prestigious school.  The decision to choose the smaller St. Vincent's school was purely based on my pride. Presentation was the college prep school and most of my female classmates would be going to there.   Throughout grammar school, I was consistently ranked third in my class.  I just never could do better than my friend Gayle or my friend Janet.  Janet was going to school in Marin county and Gayle was going to Presentation.  I deliberately chose St. Vincent, hoping I would have the opportunity to move up higher in the rankings (and, ironically, I graduated 3rd in my class of 60!)

St. Vincent had only recently been granted college prep status, so I was on a college prep course, but it had been famous in San Francisco as the best business preparatory school, so I probably did a lot more business stuff than I would have done at Presentation. 

Going to St. Vincent set me on a course for entering the convent, It made me an outstanding typist, it gave me my start in ministering to the less fortunate in the neighborhood around the school (which I credit for my interest in sponsoring kids throughout my life), it started my career as a journalist (or whatever I have been throughout my life!) and it was also responsible for the name of my daughter (whose middle name is Anne because my favorite teacher and lifelong friend was Sister Anne).

I'm glad I chose the smaller school  (and, ironically, since in later years it was the home of the Lamplighters, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in that school for someone who did not actually attend it!), but I wonder if my college preperation might have been stronger, if I might have learned to study more, and if I would have ended up finishing college instead of dropping out because I never learned how to study.

Then there was that whole convent thing, making the decision not to enter the convent after all.  That meant my father could insist that I attend UC Berkeley (which was much easier to get into then), a school which I realize today was completely wrong for me at that time.

But going to Berkeley meant I had to decide where I wanted to live.  Again, I went for the smallest house on campus, Mitchell Hall.  The brand new dormitories, closer to the school, scared me because so many girls lived there.   Mitchell Hall was a long way from campus, up a big hill, and I don't remember the population, but it was half the size of the next largest hall, Peixoto, which was attached to Mitchell, though each hall had its own staff and issues.

Making that decision perhaps resulted in one of the longest friendships in my life, because Char was the grad resident in Peixoto.  It wasn't that we became great friends.  In fact, I hated that grad resident because I knew she didn't like me.  I was actually afraid of her.  However, when we got away from the dorms, Char and I came to know each other through Newman Hall, the Catholic center on campus.  And look where we are fifty-three years later!

I had to decide whether to take the opportunity to work as an au pair in France at one point, a job a French priest said he could arrange for me, and I ended up deciding not to do that.  I also toyed with joining the Peace Corps when it was first started and was too afraid to do that too.

It was a scary road decision to leave UC Berkeley and go to work instead.  My father was dead set against it. He wanted me to be a teacher ('cause it was such a cushy job, he told me repeatedly).  It was a job I knew I was not suited for and what I loved to do was secretarial stuff.  I also was doing terribly in class...and for someone used to being ranked 3rd, to receive my first D was devastating.  Defying my father was a very scary decision. It is a decision I'm still not sure was right or not.  Very good things came out of the job I had, but I've always felt I should have continued on and finished school.  My one biggest regret in life (though not big enough to send me back to school to get a degree I don't need and won't use).

Once you marry and start raising a family, there aren't a lot of roads that make you choose one way or the other, at least roads that are going to affect your future life.  We made one decision together when Walt was transferred up here to Davis, forcing us to either leave our beloved Bay Area or for Walt to look for a new job.  Ultimately it was a good decision, I think, but I do think about it from time to time...what would our kids be like if we had not moved here?  Would Paul and David be dead?  Would the kids have the careers that they do?  Would music have been such a big part of our lives? I am glad, now, that we moved here--but it took me a good 15 years to reach that point!

There have been little road decisions over the up a job I hated with an attorney I hated, which freed me to take a job with a typing service that I grew to love.  Less money, but much better emotionally.   Yes or no to the offer of the theater critic job.  Haven't regretted that one at all.  Some other smaller decisions along the way, some of which were mistakes.

But looking back over my life, I think that mostly I made the right decisions.  That's a comforting thing to realize.  Nowadays, the big decisions I make generally concern what I'm going to cook for dinner.  Nothing life-altering. May those be the most serious decisions I have to make from here on out....

1 comment:

Harriet said...

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.” -- Whittier

My own version has always been, "what-if in the past is fiction." It doesn't help me to dwell on it.