parallel lives

Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun…

Some days I wish I could go back in my life, not to necessarily change anything, but to savor some experiences and people who are now absent. I fantasized about this during the past few days. My niece was visiting me from the States for the first time. My brother, her father, died when she was a child. She is the closest I will ever come to having my brother here. For four days I found myself having a relationship with my brother’s un-lived life. Through her eyes I showed him the incomparable beauty of the southwestern French countryside.

I believe there are parallel possibilities that exist alongside us at any given time. What astonishes me is finding myself here, at this moment, deep in this life and no other. I could have taken a thousand different paths, but chose this one. What made me choose this one and not another?

Maybe because I was married to two actors, I’ve sometimes felt the universe had a central casting agent who sends us an endless supply of producers, directors, scripts and thousands of characters to choose from at each point in our lives. Each person and set of circumstances are necessary because, in an infinitely remarkable way, they help shape our stories.

I believe the spaces in between the lives we wish we had and the ones we are actually living teach us about who we are. It is in what’s missing, what we long for, what we want and can’t have, for whatever reason, that we find our true selves.

I do not know where I might have been led, who I might have been with, or in what country I might have lived, but as I look back what is certain is that the odds of my being here, in this moment, are nothing short of miraculous.

Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abelard’s woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in an alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master’s bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken bet.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Mary Shelley
in love with a wrong-headed angel,
or Mary’s friend. I might have been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who-but for endless ifs-
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.

Alive Together by Lisel Mueller

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