Open doors

Portland


I'm taking you back to 2003, when my husband and I lived in Portland, Oregon. I had just returned to Portland after a trip home to Charleston:

When the plane landed, I noticed a sense of familiarity, like I was visiting a close friend. I grabbed my carry-on and walked in step with the crowd, rolling my luggage through the airport terminal and keeping my eyes open for Shawn. I spotted him beyond the security check, holding a bouquet of yellow roses and a gift bag with a rainbow of tissue paper peeking out from the top. We had yellow roses at our wedding—I chose them because they were my grandmother’s favorite, as a way to honor her memory. But now they'd become a symbol of something else. Commitment. Staying together. Even when it’s hard.

It never occurred to me I'd change so drastically. I'm certain it never occurred to him either. I wasn’t the woman he married. Not exactly.

We embraced and kissed each other hello, and I took a moment to admire the flowers.

"Go ahead and look," he said. I reached inside the bag and pulled out a hardcover book: What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson. "I saw him on Oprah," Shawn said. "It seemed like something you would like."

Shawn never watched Oprah like a fan watches Oprah. He worked in a newsroom and televisions were everywhere. But something about the Bronson segment had caught his attention.

I couldn't take my eyes off this book. In the car ride back to our apartment, I ran my fingers along the cover, read the inside and back flap copy and flipped through the pages, scanning the chapters with interest. Bronson, a successful businessman, had asked the very questions I'd been asking myself on a daily basis. Better yet, he'd interviewed hundreds of others who'd found themselves at a crossroads and gone another way. I felt camaraderie with these individuals I'd never met. I'd found my people.

---

"We could keep moving around from city to city, but for what?” Shawn asked one night, during a home-cooked candlelight dinner. “I guess it depends on what we're really working toward." These types of questions had never seemed to enter Shawn's mind before now.

"I don't know anymore," I said, sticking my nose in a glass of Blue Moon Pinot Noir. Lately, my favorite pastime was browsing Fred Meyer, seeking out bottles of wine and ingredients for my latest recipe. It was oddly fulfilling. "I had no idea I'd end up here. Not just here in Portland, but here in life. I'm terrified to make another choice, knowing how a simple decision can alter my course so dramatically."

"I've never approached my life that way,” he said, “If a door closes, I don't question it. I may not like it, but I assume it happened for a reason. I look for the next opportunity."

"Why is that?" I asked, hoping the romantic atmosphere would keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.

"I just don't. Doors open. Doors close. It's as simple as that."

Simple, perhaps. But a hard lesson to learn. All this time, I thought a closing door meant I’d done something wrong. Where did I get the idea that doing everything right—without error—led to a life of always-open doors? Why did I think that was humanly possible? But I did. That’s exactly what I thought. Make the right moves. Take the right chances. Push myself to the limit and success will follow. Success, perhaps. Depending on how you choose to define it.

I considered myself a spiritual person. I prayed for guidance all the time. But it seemed Shawn had a lot more faith. I'd finally read the book I borrowed from the library, The Mystery of God's Will. While the author, Chuck Swindoll, had done a thorough job of illustrating the intricacies of that mystery, he confessed in the first few pages that you can't really solve it like Sherlock Holmes. Some of our life's biggest questions don't have concrete answers.

"Have you ever thought about trying again for law school?" I asked.

"No. I studied my ass off for the LSAT and I know if I took it again, I wouldn't score much higher. Besides, I was always good at TV and I realized I was just resisting the inevitable. I never really wanted to practice law. I probably would have done something in entertainment. Maybe become an agent or something."

"You could have been my agent," I said, smiling. We had made the perfect TV husband-and-wife team. Back in Charleston, when my pager went off—a sign there was breaking news and my cue to go into work—Shawn would be the first to jump off the couch, head to my closet and pull an outfit together and start packing my bag if the story required me to work overnight or head out of town. He'd assumed the role as my personal fashion consultant, breaking it to me not-so-gently that my suits—the ones I bought at Dress Barn—were too big. He also convinced me to toss half the shoes in my closet. If it weren't for Shawn, I'd still be trapped in the 1980s, teasing my bangs and wearing Keds.

We finished our dinner, sitting on cheap wooden bar stools in our 400-square-foot apartment. Hootie and the Blowfish spun memories of college days. My decision to transfer colleges hadn't led me to the perfect career. Neither had moving to Portland. But both of those choices had led me to Shawn.

"Well," I raised my glass. "Here's to open doors."

This is a series inspired by mementos found inside an old trunk. Each post stands alone, but together they tell a story. It continues here. To start at the beginning click here.