Forks in the Road
November 8, 2015
Yogi Berra once famously said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Sound advice. But seriously, there is something profound attached to these moments where we can go right or left, and we choose, and in doing so, change the course of our lives.
And looking backwards, it’s easy to trace how you got here . . . from back there. Steve Jobs called it connecting the dots backwards. But as I look at my life, I find it a bit mind-boggling to realize the big course changes in my life were largely set in motion by a moment of clarity or a random comment from someone.
My first major course correction came when I was 19 years old. Growing up, I had always wanted to be an actress. I was big stuff in my little hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The star of every high school show. My yearbook is riddled with best wishes for the future Hollywood star.
So college for me was all about the drama department, and I was thrilled to be accepted into Catholic University’s famous program in Washington, DC. It took me about a year to realize that I was seriously nothing special. There were a hundred “me’s” there.
Not only that, I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with my fellow thespian wanna-be’s. They seemed far more willing to make fools of themselves than I was. Or maybe I was just too uptight. I could easily have gone on like that – feeling slightly out of place and blaming myself – until one day early in my sophomore year, my drama instructor said something that made everything crystal clear. She clapped her hands together and said, “Okay everybody, hop up on stage and be a mushroom.” I remember looking around at my fellow classmates for confirmation that this was weird as all-get-out, but no one met my glance. They were all busy hopping up on the stage to be mushrooms. In that moment, I knew. These were not my people; drama was not my thing. I made the decision right then and there to quit. I eventually transferred to George Washington University, discovered my passion for television, and had a fulfilling career that lasted 24 years.
Making that decision to abandon something I had spent my whole life preparing for was huge, important, and necessary. But I wonder, if my teacher that day had never asked me to be a mushroom, what would have happened to me? Where would my life course have taken me?
Another comment that stopped me in my tracks happened about five years ago. After two failed marriages and a number of bad boyfriends, a friend said to me, “What if your type isn’t your type?” Wow. What a concept. What if my type isn’t my type? I thought about that question a lot. What I realized was that I hadn’t noticed that I had been fishing for men in the pond labeled “Insensitive Jerk.” After that, I started fishing in the pond labeled “Nice Guys” . . . which I think made me open to what happened next.
When my daughter Summer was 14 years old, about a year before she was diagnosed with cancer, she and Cole Hickman (the oldest child of our fabulous Elizabeth Hickman) came into my room one night around 10:30 just as I was drifting off to sleep. They had their laptops with them and climbed onto the end of my bed. Summer said, “Mom, in four years, Jordan and I will be out of the house and you will be alone and you need a man, so we’re putting you on eHarmony tonight.”
My vehement protests were completely ignored as they passed photographs of me back and forth and talked about me like I wasn’t there. I can still hear the click, click, clicking sounds of their keyboards as they furiously built me a profile. At some point, I became amused by Summer’s intensity. She was not taking ‘no’ for an answer that night. Before I knew it, I was handing her a credit card, and $147 later, I was on eHarmony.
The very next morning, Charles’ profile was in my inbox. What’s so strange is that Summer already knew him. Turns out, Charles had played in bands with her half brother, Kris, for years. When I showed Summer Charles’ picture on eHarmony, she said, “Oh Mommy, I know him, he’s so funny. He’s so nice. Last time I heard him play, I thought, ‘I wonder if he has a wife.’ ”
Now listen to this timing: Charles and I met, fell in love, and married a year later on October 1st 2011. We got back from our honeymoon on October 9. Summer’s cancerous tumor was discovered October 14. I never would have survived Summer’s year of cancer and her death without my beloved Charles by my side.
Looking back, it was as if Summer knew she was leaving me, and she brought me Charles to comfort me. Charles told us later that right before he saw my profile, he had decided he was going to cancel his subscription to eHarmony. After years of endless coffee dates with the wrong girls, he was ready to throw in the towel. Did Summer sense a window was closing? But how could that be? It makes no sense with our limited concept of time and space. But I do think there is something to divine intuition . . . those times when we can sense that we are part of something larger . . . when we can feel that connection to all living things. When we are in that space, I think we can know things we can’t possibly know, and sense things we can’t possibly sense. I don’t think that means we have to believe in a god that’s upstairs pulling the strings or telling us stuff. I think all we have to believe is that we don’t know everything and then ponder the things we don’t understand. Accept the mystery. Maybe that’s enough to help us make the right choice at the fork in the road.