Cookie Cutter Life

I had a simple epiphany during this experience of future home shopping in this past month: I do not want a cookie cutter house. That is to say, I do not want to live in a newly-constructed house or condo that looks exactly (or close to exactly) like the next-door neighbor’s place. Would it be amazing to be the first owners of  a place? Certainly. But in searching for homes, I found myself more intrigued by all of the houses that had been lived in, the ones that had been personalized and loved already — even if it was sometimes hard to look past funky and/or odd decor choices.

I was explaining this to my friend last week when I was visiting California, and she fully agreed. Just like people, she said, who don’t want to have a cookie cutter kind of life. I translate that to mean that there is no neat, orderly path to a person’s life, nor should there have to be one. There are choices that lead to more choices; there are moments that feel like setbacks; there are lessons hammered into us by life until they are internalized and learned. And we are in charge of being creators and shape-shifters instead of cut-outs.

This idea of a call to change and evolve has been presented to me again and again in the past few months. Most recently this occurred at 10:30 am Mass last Sunday at Stanford — my only parish since leaving Cincinnati. Right now is the Easter season, and the priest talked about this in his homily. Lent is its own thing, he explained, a time of self-examination, preparation, cleansing. Easter, on the other hand, is a time of a renewal, a time to ask ourselves if we are going to remain exactly as we are (or were), or if we are going to allow our hearts and minds to be moved in new directions. In a moment of being touched by his words, my inner nerd couldn’t resist taking a few notes (there is, apparently, a first time for everything) on a scrap of paper. He went on to relate this to the idea of the two forms of “to be” in Spanish: ser and estar. One implies that something is permanent (i.e. Yo soy una mujer) and one can be changed (i.e. Estoy cansada hoy). He probed us further to reflect: What parts of you are fixed? And in what parts of your life will you allow yourself to be changed?

I was convinced that this man had somehow been spying on my life since last June when we moved to Alaska. Did he know how much I needed to and was ready to hear this message? The entirety of these past ten months has been nothing but change and adjustment… and I know there is more to come. But if I am grounded in my own sense of self, with the support of Husband and loved ones, then I can embrace change even when it creates discomfort or growing pains. If I never experienced those feelings, then I’d likely be stuck and/or too cozy in the cookie cutter zone.

In the homily, he also talked about falling in love. How in the midst of falling in love, we don’t even realize how much the other person is filling us up with light and energy (and vice versa), and how — together — we are changing the other person’s ways of being. And by the same token, when we grieve for something we’ve lost, we experience emptiness and literal pain in our hearts and bodies. Funny thing is, he said, a broken heart is an open heart. This was the part when I felt tears spring to my eyes… because I thought of myself and the people I love and the times our hearts have been broken. And more importantly, how each time we have been strengthened and able to take on a new challenge or a new relationship. The state of broken-ness is temporary, never fixed.

It took a week away from Husband and life in Alaska to recognize how much progress we have made, in our lives and our relationship, since we moved. Just as I know that we are not going to purchase a cookie cutter house, I also know that we are quite far from having a cookie cutter life. And we wouldn’t be ourselves if it were any other way.

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