When I was in high school I pitied people who aspired to do regular things-those who wanted to be accountants or teachers or biologists. I wanted to do something great. I wanted to be known. I wanted to leave a mark. Through my haze of delusions of grandeur I never really nailed down what that greatness looked like. As I made my way through my 20s I slid further and further into mental illness. Greatness seemed like a joke–getting out of the house became more than I could handle.
When I was in high school my biggest fear was being alone as an adult. I often felt deeply lonely then even when surrounded by family or friends. I yearned for someone to share my life with, someone who would make me feel less alone.
I haven’t done anything great with my life, but I also haven’t been alone. It hasn’t always been easy, but Z and I have had each other to lean on. And my priorities have shifted. I don’t dream of greatness. I don’t desire fame. I’d like to not worry about the bills, but I don’t crave massive wealth.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday we stayed with my cousin M, his wife D, and their three kids who are transitioning into adulthood. My Aunt is 10 years older than my Dad. She married when she was 19 and had her eldest shortly after. So my cousin is only 11 or 12 years younger then my dad and almost 20 years older than me. While we are technically the same generation I’ve always felt like a kid to him.
Now I have children of my own and we have much more to talk about. It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with M, with the whole family this holiday. Z told my cousin’s wife that she was such a gracious host that he had trouble believing she wasn’t southern.
We got to watch a slice of the life M and D have built for their family. There is the fun stuff–M gardens and D is a talented cook. They hosted a dinner on Friday night and the fried eggplant and sauce all came out of their garden, along with an amazing vegetable casserole. Z and I aspire to do the same things someday. But the real beauty of their family is much less flashy. Their three children are easy to be around, are also incredibly hospitable, and are invested in their rich family life. They are happy to hang with the extended family, they all seem to genuinely dig each other.
I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods about their perfect family. None of us has a perfect family. We all have our shit to work through, I’m sure they do too. But they also have real joy and togetherness. They tease and tourment each other. They have an enormous amount of fun. They are not alone. M and D have raised three kids that would make anyone proud. They are surrounded by laughter and love and good food and lots of beer.
My priorities have shifted. I look at their family and see exactly what I want in my life. I am hopeful we are on our way to achieving it. And my definition of greatness is shifting. Being part of a terrific extended family. Continuing to be close to my parents and sister. Also having that closeness with Z’s family. Trying to raise two boys to be kind, good, responsible people. Surrounding ourselves with family and friends that we love and who love us back. It is a quiet greatness. But it is richer and more satisfying than anything I imagined as a teen.