How many lifetimes have you lived?
“That feels like a lifetime ago,” my longtime friend from college chuckled while we nibbled on our lovely spinach salads, spinach being the natural choice because we’re both afraid of kale. For some unexplained reason, her remark grabbed my attention. A lifetime ago, I mused, while my brain rocketed into pinball mode, trying to sum up my thankfully numerous trips around the sun.
Being a writer means that words, phrases, and trivial ideas get stuck in my head, annoying me like a mosquito who springs into action the moment I turn out the bedside lamp. But this time something fascinating popped up: we live many lifetimes in our lifespan. And it's not until we step back a bit that we can see them.
A young woman approached me about writing her book to share her life story. And by young, I mean 23 years old. I admit I chuckled at first, thinking, life story? You’re still a child! But then I read the first few rough draft chapters she wrote, and that’s when the concept of lifetimes took root for me.
Reflecting on my lifespan, I could see several lifetimes taking shape. My childhood, high school and college, my first marriage, my 30s, 40s, 50s. Each being shaped and punctuated by the experiences within that lifetime. But they all had some connection to what I was trying to accomplish; what I was pouring my energy and focus on at that moment.
My childhood lifetime showcased my desire to escape my then-self and be someone else. My high school and college lifetime started out as my effort to figure out where I fit in this world. Upon finding no fit, it then shifted to my preoccupation with leaving a world where I obviously didn’t belong. My next lifetime featured a brief marriage that I thought would fix everything. And of course, it didn’t. My next lifetime focused on building a career as an entrepreneur and succeeding in a man’s world; a theme that continues to weave its way through several lifetimes. Without a doubt, each one felt like a lifetime.
But what about seasons, you might ask, aren’t they kinda the same thing? I don’t think so. I think seasons have their place within a lifetime. For instance, when I think about my lifetime as a mother, I went through several seasons as my children grew from infancy into young adults.
Our lifetimes connect on a single strand across a lifespan, like uncultured pearls on a thread. No two look alike. Each has distinct rough edges smoothed by the friction of the experiences that were endured. Some are brief, spanning only a few years. But make no mistake, they are lifetimes just the same. It seems the only thing they have in common is the thread that holds them together. And that thread is me. And you.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love shared what she calls her Free 10 Step Writing School and Step #8 is pertinent to this conversation:
#8 - Remember that you’ve been doing research your whole life, merely by existing. You are the only expert in your own experience. Embrace this as your supreme qualification.