Talking to my 89-year-old grandmother recently, she began to recount a story from her high school years about sun poisoning. As a teen, her parents drove her from their home in Toledo, Ohio to Michigan where she was to spend the entire summer working at a camp for marginalized youth.
She talks about how, after a week of being outside nonstop, her fair skin had not just burnt, but essentially charred. They took her to the camp doctor who told her, “You can either go straight home to your doctor or go straight to the hospital… but you cannot stay here.”
So, one week into her summer job at the camp, she was on her way home to rest and recover from an extreme case of sun poisoning. She can describe it vividly—the blistered skin, the high fever, the chills so severe she could barely talk.
I’ve heard this story many times but this last time, something else stuck with me. In addition to how truly awful the sun poisoning sounds, there’s another factor that I’ve never considered until recently: it wasn’t part of her plan.
She was a high school student who made plans to spend the summer working at a camp in Michigan. She was there for a week, forming friendships and learning the work. And then, she went home. Gone. Done.
Most recently, when I listened to her tell the story some seven decades later, I thought about how tough that might have been on a teenage heart. I jumped back to my high school years (only one decade out) and remembered that bitter sting of missing cross country races because of an injury.
Yes, the sun poisoning is the bigger story. Yes, her physical health far superseded the singing of a campfire song. But I can’t help but wonder if she was disappointed to leave camp. If it was hard to leave new friendships and opportunities.
You can know something is for the best and still be upset. You can know you’re making the right choice and still be hurt by it. You can feel confident in your actions as your heart is breaking.
And at the same time, talking with my octogenarian grandmother keeps me grounded in the perspective. What may be disappointing at 26 is only a blip of a story in a (if I’m lucky) long lifetime.
I don’t mean to invalidate my high school heartbreaks or early-twenties woes but I’ve come to so truly understand, through spending time with older family members and friends, that every experience worth living becomes a story worth sharing—even the painful ones.
It might not be part of your plan. But maybe someday, you’ll recount this moment where you course corrected and changed everything. Maybe someday you’ll look back at these little turning points, in attitudes, behaviors, locations, jobs, relationships, and so on and feel a moment of peace. You could have lived any life. But you are here. In this one. Lean into it.