Imagine What Could Be

Imagine What Could Be - Maria Shriver
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Shirley Chisholm

I've Been Thinking...

One of my oldest and dearest friends is moving. My great friend Carl is leaving Los Angeles for Costa Rica (!), and this past week we held a goodbye lunch for him in my office. It was a sweet send-off with hugs, laughs, and toasts to a man and a friendship that everyone described as otherworldly.

Carl is that guy, the one who everybody feels is their best friend. The one who generously and graciously feeds everyone’s hearts, minds, and stomachs. He is one of those people who is part of this world, but not really in it, if you know what I mean. He is a creative, visionary genius, someone who has always been ahead of his time in almost every way. 

He was fighting for the environment way before anyone else was. He collected crystals and Buddhas before it was hip to do so. He’s always been open and accepting of all faiths. He worked on the frontlines of Democratic politics because he wanted to make our world more equitable for all. He lived in an ashram and practiced silence, meditation, and yoga. He created the most exquisite events for every charity under the cosmos. 

Carl was one of the first people I met when I moved to Los Angeles. He was the first person in my room when I had my first child. He was the first person to go to a meeting with me when I became First Lady of California. He was the first person to help me find my footing in life when I started over.

The truth is, I’ve never hosted anything—be it a birthday party, a bridal shower, or the largest women’s conference in the world—without Carl by my side. So needless to say, him leaving Los Angeles leaves a huge hole in my heart and in my day-to-day life.

Any time someone important moves away or departs from your life, it leaves a hole. That’s what happened when my brother Bobby and his family moved to Wyoming in search of a different way of life. (He told me last night that now he’s thinking of moving even further away. Good God.) That’s what happened when my friend David left searching for something different. That’s what happened when my friend Julia moved up north. And now it’s happening with Carl.

One’s first inclination when something like this happens is to try and fill the hole, but I’ve learned that the holes real friends leave don’t always need to be filled. In fact, they can’t be. I’ve learned to feel the absence that someone in your life can create and honor the hole as recognition of the enormity of the relationship that used to fill it. 

Holding that space and marveling at it while also moving forward is a challenge. But I think it’s something we are all learning to deal with these days. People are up and changing their lives in record numbers. I’m sure you know people who have quit their jobs, moved to different cities or countries, or left relationships. People are feeling called to leave what they knew behind for something completely different. These are unpredictable, fluid times, which is one of the reasons this edition of The Sunday Paper is focused on pivoting.

In fact, the other day I was speaking with another one of my dearest friends, who also lives far away, about this unique moment in all of our lives. We talked about how to navigate all the uncertainty in everyone’s world and the importance of not longing for the past. We talked about how this is a moment to be creative about what our future can look like. 

We spoke about how this moment is asking us all to envision a new future, not just for ourselves but for our country as well. If we open our eyes and our minds, we can see that we’re being presented with options. How do we want to live and work moving forward? How do we want to be in relationship with one another and our planet moving forward? What kind of country do we want to save or recreate? What kinds of conversations are we willing to engage in? Are we able to join together, or are we going to just cancel one another out with hate until no one is left?

I believe that this is a moment that is asking us all to imagine a different future. It’s asking us to imagine a different way of living, working, and being in relationship with ourselves and others. This is a moment for those who are brave enough to design a new way forward. 

That brings me back to Carl. A few months ago, I was having dinner with Carl and he asked me if I wanted to see a picture of his new home in Costa Rica. He showed me a photo of a slab of concrete in what looked like a large garden with four beams staring up at the sky. That was it. 

“Isn’t that beautiful, Maria?” he said to me. 

I saw nothing but a concrete slab, but he saw potential even before there were walls. He was creating his new life, and in his mind, he was imagining what could be. His new home is now built, and it’s exactly what he envisioned: It’s simple, serene, and magical. It’s Carl.

I’ve always been someone who liked to visualize my way forward, and I’ve got to say, when I see friends pivot like Carl is doing, it both inspires me and gives me pause. I marvel at the change, but I also understand the fear that can come with it. 

That said, what I’ve learned in life is that each of us is way more creative than we give ourselves credit for. Each of us has a beautiful imagination, and now is the moment to tap into yours.

So get quiet and sit with yourself. Imagine what life can look like for you and or your family moving forward. Imagine who you want in your life and why. Imagine the kind of work you want to get up and do every day. Imagine the kind of country you want to hand over to those younger than you. Imagine how you can help humanity in this important moment (because yes, you can). Imagine the kind of love you want in your life. Imagine yourself 10-15 years from now. Who is in that picture? Who are you in that picture?

Are you living with gaping holes, or have you found ways to move forward and keep relationships with people you love even if they have moved away? If you are the one who has left, are you making an effort to stay connected? 

As for me, I’m trying to design a life that feels brave and imaginative, one that inspires me and that is helpful, gracious, and kind. One that has as little judgment about people in it as possible. I’m also not waiting for a political leader to describe to me where the country should be going. I already have a vision for the country myself: one that is gracious, accepting, fair, safe, and equitable—a living, breathing democracy. One in which the vast majority of people feel seen, safe, and supported. We can each work to make that a reality.

I also imagine a life that is full, one that includes those who have moved away and that makes room for new people to step in. I’m not asking those new friends to fill the hole of the ones who have left. I’m asking them to help me envision how we can all create something better together. 

I want to imagine new possibilities like Carl. His ability to dream and make his visions a reality is what we need our leaders to do these days. I long for that. In the meantime, let’s do it for them using our thoughts, words, and deeds.



PRAYER OF THE WEEK                              

Dear God, please help me imagine the possibilities in my life. If I’m feeling called to change, help me be brave enough to design a new way forward for me, my family, and my country. Amen.


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