What will you do with your one sweet life?
I was 18, soon to finish high school, the first time I heard that question. My English teacher, Mr. Prince, suggested it for an essay. Then he said to me, “You really are a writer.”
Huh? I didn’t know what “writer” meant. I knew writers wrote things, but I didn’t know any writers personally.
Women in my family raised babies or worked in mills or waited tables. Some of them, like my mother, did all three.
Those were hard jobs. Writing seemed easy. I couldn’t imagine getting paid to do it.
(Later, I learned that writing is actually hard and it can pay, but not usually very much.)
Mr. Prince was well named. I liked him a lot, even before he said I was a writer. I didn’t want to disappoint him. So I wrote an essay entitled, “What Will I Do with My One Sweet Life?”
I have no idea what I said in it. It was a long time ago. Never mind how long. I thought I might marry my high school boyfriend and raise babies, but I wouldn’t put that in an essay.
Maybe I said I wanted to go to college to study English (I liked to read) but I would never want to teach it to people who didn’t know what “writer” meant.
Mr. Prince gave it an A, with a note saying it could’ve been an A+, if not for the crack about teaching. When I asked him about that, he laughed.
“I love teaching,” he said. “I try to make the most of my one sweet life. I hope you will, too.”
Then I went off to college, and my high school boyfriend went to Vietnam. When he came back, we split up and I moved to California, married a teacher and started raising babies.
I also took a part-time job writing (it paid, but not much) for a local newspaper. I never doubted that I was making the most of my one sweet life. But in time I’d realize that for some of us, life isn’t just one life. It’s a series of lives told in chapters.
My children were in their late teens and early 20s when we lost their dad to cancer. We were close as a family, but his death drew us closer. That’s one of the gifts that come with loss.
The kids didn’t need raising any more. But they needed me to make the most of that chapter of my life. I needed it, too. I wanted to be an example for them and honor their dad’s memory by moving forward and being fully alive. So I traveled, worked, wrote and played.
Years later, when I remarried, it was for all those reasons and more. Mostly it was for love. Love makes every life sweeter.
Then the grandbabes started showing up. Eight babes in eight years. Now, when I plan what to do with my day, the plan often includes one or more little people. And their parents. And a trip to the market for something my husband, bless him, will grill. And a big bottle of Biofreeze for my back.
Life doesn’t get much sweeter than that. Still, there are a few more things I hope to do to make the most of this chapter.
- I want to finish a novel that I started and stopped some years ago. (I recently read about a 101-year-old woman who just published her first book of poetry. Yes, I am fired up.)
- I’d like to visit places that carry my column and meet readers and editors and other friends I’ve never met.
- I want to see my husband get really old
- and keep his marriage vows to always play his bass and try to be more like his dad.
- I’d love to watch my children make the most of their sweet lives, raise their children and see all their dreams come true.
After that? Who knows?
If we’re lucky, you and I, we will make the most of not just one sweet life, but a blockbuster series, with a brand new chapter beginning every day.
What will you do with yours?