Choices. You have to live with them, both the good and the bad ones. What you decide is a good or bad choice only comes with hindsight, and hindsight isn’t neutral. Rather, it the voice from the present that assesses the past, coding it in ways that make sense in the now, ways that may not make the same kind of sense later on. In this, the struggle is to honour those choices for what they say about who you were, what you valued, what you had to learn. The struggle is also to be realistic about what you can ‘fix’ or what you can do to shift the trajectory your choices set you on.
I guess it’s a struggle to think about the past while not dwelling in it, to think about the present as it empowers you to mediate the past and future, and to think about the future while recognizing that you can only get so far, so fast.
I think about this a lot as I’ve been assessing my trajectory as an academic and trying to understand exactly how I found myself here today. I could say I spent too much time in my early years doing outreach and activism, but what passions and lessons and connections would that ‘too much’ be dishonoring? Here I am now with all this past activism in hand, a baby to give time to in the present and tenure ahead. Sometimes, I wish I had just gotten my book out so that I wouldn’t be caught in the work-family balance as I am now, sometimes I know that things unfold as they should. It’s rare in my life for me to think that where I am isn’t exactly where I’m supposed to be. And, really, I’ve got the myriad of voices in my head with all sides of the argument.
The voice of the wonderful woman who told me yesterday that what you do represents how you become yourself, and that your path can’t be devalued. She also told me to be careful of wanting it all because maybe some things have to give and, in the end, looking at one’s mortality, you have to know that you kept to the things that most mattered. There is the voice of the US Professor who said to me, yesterday as well, “send me a publishable version of something you have written in two days from now (!), I want to see what peer reviewed journals we can send it to”, just because – completely out of the blue – he’s invested in me getting tenure on time too. He said he’s seen my story amongst too many ‘women of colour’ academics who spend the early years on political work, the middle years on children and the later years two steps behind their male and childless peers who pushed ahead while they didn’t.
Then there’s that overall lesson I learned about not knowing the reasons things happen until you do. When my dad was kidnapped in 2006 (something I’m saying publicly for the first time here), he escaped by hiding and running through the forest throughout the night. At some point, he came to a house, virtually by itself at the edge of the trees and he called out to those inside, saying his name and that he was a kidnap victim and asking for help. The man who came outside, answered by saying his name in return, with familiarity and in surprise. They had known each other for three months in 1963 when my dad worked in the Treasury. I’ve never forgotten that story. Did they meet for that short period, forty years before, so that on that dark night of terror my dad would almost miraculously find, in that first person that he met, someone who already knew his name?
This is why you can’t second guess your choices. You never know when you will find out why they make sense, you never know when you’ll come to value exactly that thing you chose to do at that time, you simply cannot foretell why you will come to honour your past and your passions and the simple ups and downs of mistakes and successes.
I’m trying to keep this in mind as I push ahead, try to stay focused rather than feel overwhelmed, and figure out how to manage, though I’m really really tired, as if I could work as I used to. I guess that whether my past choices were right or not is irrelevant. All that counts is the decisions that I make now. The rest I just have to trust and let unfold. Who knows how I will have differently reassessed my choices forty years from now, when suddenly they may make total sense in ways i could have never anticipated.