Paul and I took a couple of days off this week. Well, truthfully, he took a couple of days off. Since the onset of the Covid disaster, I have mostly had my days free. But he’s been working as a therapist in a time of universal angst, and he was very tired.
We decided to take a couple of days and travel up into the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the National Forest Campground where Paul and his family have spent vacations since the 1920s.
While Paul grew up with a love of these mountains, and a passion of camping at their feet, I came to that life in my late teens. Truthfully, I had never camped in my life until I decided that this very cute guy was worth the bugs, the rain, the cold nights and the burned food.
Needless to say, I learned to camp. In fact, I learned to camp at Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest. I learned to pitch a tent. And to cook outside. And to bathe my little ones in a rubber bucket. I learned to lock up the food so the bears wouldn’t get it. And to wash my hair in a bucket of water warmed over the camp stove.
And the years went by. My kids love camping, and hiking. They love Dolly Copp Campground so much. Our extended family has a reunion up there every year. That campground is where I felt the movement of my first baby in my womb. It is where that same baby went into early labor and was rushed off the hospital to have her own daughter, with me at her side. Dolly Copp campground is where my boys learned to fish, and where they learned the sorrow that came with killing another being in order to eat.
We swam in the river that runs through the campground. We made s’more. We sang around the fires. Our little family has so many, many good memories of that place.
And Paul and I went there to camp last night. Only one night, but it was filled with memories and peace and laughter.
This morning, very early, I found myself in the campground’s bathroom. An updated, modern, clean version of the little spaces where I’d dressed my kids so many times.
I looked into the mirror, and I saw my 64 year old self. Not the hopeful, eager young 19 year old girl who first followed her future mate to this place, but the gray, wrinkled, slightly wilted version of that girl.
“I’m 64.” I said out loud. “How did this happen?”
I expected to feel sad, but you know what? Something beautiful happened.
As I stood there, looking at my aging self, I heard a sudden unexpected voice answering my question.
“It happened because for the past 40 plus years, you’ve been busy.
In that time,” the voice told me, “You’ve graduated from college, learned what you wanted to do with you life, achieved a Master’s degree and embarked on a rich and rewarding career.”
I looked back at the image in the mirror, remembering every misstep and every failed moment.
But the voice from my heart continued, “You’ve learned how to teach. And you’ve been a teacher. You have touched the lives of many many children, in ways that you won’t ever know. You have reassured parents, encouraged kids, supported them on their journeys. The years passed because you were busy. You were growing and you were doing good.”
I thought of the kids I’ve loved and taught over the years. The kids who are my Facebook friends, my real life friends, my warmest memories. “OK”, I thought, “I get it.”
But the voice wasn’t done.
“And you’ve raised three kids. Three adults who are healthy and joyful and loving.”
I looked back at my face in the mirror. I saw a mother. A teacher. A sister, a friend, a wife, a daughter.
I saw a life well lived.
“OK”, I said, nodding to my own old self, “OK. I’m 64 years old, and it isn’t a surprise. How did I get here? I got here on my own winding but worthwhile path.”
Really, what more could any of us ask of this life?