From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines.
— Walt Whitman
Ten summers ago I was a minister married to a minister. We’d just moved into our first house—a small colonial in the suburbs, with a tiny backyard. Most of our furniture was hand-me-downs from family, but when my mother-in-law offered to buy us garden furniture I jumped at the chance to search for the perfect pieces for our patio under a pine. For three weeks I spent all my free time—when I wasn’t at my new job as a minister—trolling through every big box store and independent garden center in the greater Boston area, looking for something rustic from the Adirondack family. But to my surprise I finally fell in love with a glass-topped bistro table and four metal chairs in pale green; though more Parisian café than New England backyard, their small size and elegant lines lured me in. They were different from what I’d envisioned, but I knew without a doubt that this was it. We invited my sister and brother to dinner and christened our table with summer salads and rosé. It was my best memory of the backyard.
In the midst of that search, I’d felt sort of silly for driving all over the city looking for the perfect backyard accessories. Why am I so particular? I wondered. Especially since the patio furniture would spend half the year in the basement. Why don’t I feel drawn to more noble pursuits in my free time? Like working late. Or reading smart books. That’s what my husband did. But as lame as I felt for turning furniture shopping into a (temporary) second job, I did it anyway because I wanted my backyard to feel just right. Even if I was the only who really cared.
It was worth the hunt.
A decade later I’m still smitten with that table and its chairs; they’ve been promoted from the backyard to kitchen since I don’t have a backyard anymore. Or a husband. I left both when I was thirty-one, and a few years after that I stepped away from my career too, unsure of what came next, but as sure as I’d been about the patio furniture that leaving the ministry was right for me. Now, at thirty-nine, my life appears less settled than at twenty-nine. In place of a full-time career as a minister, I have several seasonal, part-time jobs. In place of a husband, a sporadic dating life and sometimes a boyfriend. And in place of a house with a yard, a one-bedroom apartment in the city. But here’s the beautiful thing: from inside my life, I feel much more settled in who I am than I did in my twenties.
Even though it looked like I had life figured out back then, oftentimes it didn’t feel authentic. It didn’t feel like me. So I let go. And that’s where the magic happened: letting go of what I thought I should be doing, and starting over, I discovered a life that felt like mine
Today I sit at my garden table, in the kitchen, and write. I had no idea that my perfect backyard bistro would turn in a writing desk. That I would write a whole book sitting there. I just knew that I wanted to find the right table. And now I know this too: If we are true to ourselves—not afraid to slow down, figure out what we really want, and begin again—life may not turn out according to our carefully constructed plans. Instead, it will turn out much better.