It's funny to think about the people who lived in a place before you, particularly if your house is as old as my rental. Our duplex dates from 1910, and in many ways -the sloping floor, the disused fireplace, the hairy, monstrous Yeti of a heating bill- you can tell. But the people who lived there? Who oversaw the declension of the floorboards, who broke the flue? Nada. No prints.
Or rather, subtle signs, a couple of clues. The cat hair in the heating vent, the robin's egg blue of the kitchen walls. And, in the back, three raised beds in the sunniest part of the yard.
The raised beds make me sad. Someone was a gardener, and that someone would be pretty darn appalled to see the the pantheon of scraggly yet enterprising weeds presiding over the beds today. There are even a couple of miniature trees. I am not a gardener, but here, in this house, I should be. I love fresh vegetables and flowers, herbs and puttering around outside. I ought to be gardener. I would be a gardener, if only I had the time, or I knew how, or I wasn't terrified of earthworms, or [insert excuse here].
I could be X, if not for Y. Everybody's got a little folio of these formulas, a set of alternate selves they thumb through during down time. If I'd had the proper training, I would be a musician. I would make a great teacher, if I'd ever tried. If things were a little different, I would be a professional wrestler.
Gardener is up there for me. If I only [knew how to garden, had gotten around to learning, didn't fear the nexus of terror that is the worm], I'm sure I'd be out there right now, planting bulbs or weeding or, um, whatever it is you do this time of year.
Librarian is another one. I love books! I love organizational systems! If I'd just [gone to library school instead of SLP school when I was trying to decide between them], I could be answering your reference questions right now. Also you would probably not be three years old, which would be a relief.
And then there's minister. I come from a very long line of ministers. Ministry combines so many of the things I love to do -writing, exegesis, connecting the big to the small, counseling, socializing, ritual, administration, community building- in one shiny package! I would make a fantabulous minister, if not for [the niggling issue of believing in God].
I know you do this, too. Yes, you, reader, the one on the other side of the computer screen. You would be a great parent, or knitter, or novelist, or runner, if only [XYZhandoffatethegreatpenguin].
I don't mind them, these alternate selves. I don't think they do any harm, and sometimes they do us good, giving us a taste of other lives, a savor of possibility. But the fact of the matter is, we aren't any of these things. I'm not a librarian. I never even seriously contemplated seminary. And I have allowed my raised beds to look, for almost three years now, like this:
We are what we are, that old cliche. But also: We aren't what we aren't. For whatever reason, big or small, good or negligible, we chose another path.
Which doesn't mean that we can never reverse course. Maybe someday the gardening fairy will appear and teach me how to plant some basil.