Most days feel the same. I wake up, go about a familiar routine of working and living, something fun or dramatic happens most days, and then I go to bed.
When I measure my days that way, they all blend together.
Last semester in school I had to do a self-exploration paper measuring my own physical, mental, and emotional development. I had to choose a development theory and then compare my own personal development to what a famous so-and-so said should have happened in my development. Trust me when I tell you that it was a complicated, long, and stressful assignment. As it turns out, I had pretty normal physical development but, according to the psychology gurus, had a somewhat abnormal psychosocial development. I’ll hold on while you pick your jaw up off the floor.
The assignment to compare normal v. Sarah caused me some emotional stress but it also was great. Yeah, my life was sometimes pretty messed up —raise your hand if yours wasn’t! — and some rotten (terrible?) things happened… but, damn! A lot has changed and I did not end up where I was sure I would.
I finished the assignment, got into the car, and drove to Target to pick up game prizes for the monthly Bingo night I organize at the local homeless shelter. As I was driving, I was feeling sad and mourning things I felt I missed out on from my past. And then I came to a stop light and looked around inside my car. I’m driving a Mini Cooper, I thought. This has been my dream car ever since I saw The Italian Job a decade ago. I’m driving my dream car.
Suddenly my gloomy thought process of look how much I missed out on in my adolescence changed to, Holy crap. This Is Your Life, Sarah. You have a Mini Cooper! You’re in grad school!!! You have great friends! You have a lovely home and You Are HAPPY!!! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!?
My mind started doing a flash-movie-sequence of “This Was Your Life, Sarah!” It was intense. I remembered the absolute poverty of spirit I had in my early-to-mid 20’s when every day I wanted to die. Then I remembered the absolute poverty of my wallet when I, like many 20-somethings, had no money. I recall that going to the grocery store was like a game of wallet-roulette. As in, do I have enough money in the bank or will this check bounce?
And then I remembered a shopping trip I took with my mom about 11 years ago, after my parents moved into their mountain home in West Virginia. I went to the grocery store with my mom, tagging along while she shopped since I was at my parent’s house for a weekend visit. We got to the grocery store and walked up to get a grocery cart. Mom told me to get a cart, too. So, I grabbed a second cart and figured she was going to do a lot of shopping since I was there to help her. We walked into the store and my mom said “Get everything you need.”
I had been struggling with finances and she knew it. Usually she and my dad gave me a miserable time about financial management and how irresponsible I was with my money, blah blah blah. So, I almost cried because, number one, she wasn’t giving me a hard time about money and, number two, I needed a lot of stuff.
I said, “What? You can’t afford this!”
We weren’t rich growing up and “we can’t afford it” was something I heard and said regularly. I don’t know why I figured that my parents still “couldn’t afford it” after all their kids had moved out, but in my mind I was 12 years old again at the grocery store figuring out what we could afford.
Mom said, “I know what I can and cannot afford, Sarah. Get everything you need.”
Paper towels were the measurement of extravagance to me. When you’re 20-something and broke, you go into the grocery store for only the essentials… food, toilet paper, soap. The end. Paper Towels? Please. Ain’t nobody got money for that.
Mom looked at me with a mixture of pity, sadness, and maybe maternal sympathy and said, “Yes, of course you can get paper towels. Get as many rolls as you want.”
It was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except it was “Sarah and the Grocery Store” and it was awesome.
In the end, I think “everything I needed” totaled around $70 which, to me, may as well have been $700. And yes, I got several rolls of paper towels.
Back in the present day, I pulled into the parking lot of Target realizing that I’ve bought paper towels for years without even thinking about how much they cost or the extravagance they once were for me. I went into Target and picked up the prizes for game night and bought myself a few extra rolls of paper towels because I could.
It’s a stupid measurement for some, but I measured my progress with paper towels. A decade ago I never imagined my life would go on much longer, let alone that I would go to college and get a bachelor’s degree. That was not a dream I dared to dream because I was so depressed that it never occurred to me that I could be successful or happy. I believed I would be stuck in bad relationships, unhappy, subjugated, and then die young. And there I was standing in line with a cart full of prizes and paper towels, looking forward to spending time with the residents at the shelter, and getting ready to walk out to the parking lot and get in my dream car. I marveled that I not only finished my bachelor’s degree, but that somehow I was in grad school and that I am actually looking forward forward to the future.
In my daily routine, I don’t typically think about how much my life has changed. I’ve been making it a mindful habit now, though. When I look back I can see how much I have changed from when I was a girl who could not afford paper towels or to think about a future.
How much have you changed?