Have you ever gone back to your past and wondered, “what if I never left this place?” or “what if I would have married this guy or this girl… how would my life be different?”

This past weekend I went with my mom to her childhood ‘romping ground’ and met the relatives I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We flew to Kansas for my mom’s cousin’s 50th anniversary of being a priest and spent the weekend driving all over Kansas seeing my child hood home, seeing and meeting cousins, going to a nursing home to see an aunt, and even going through a grave yard to see the gravesites of relatives from long ago.

Much to my surprise, Kansas was lush and hilly and beautiful. It wasn’t the flat lands of corn fields like I imagined. It was a beautiful green country side, with rolling hills, lots of trees, charming houses and lots of land. My relatives, many who live out in the country, are wonderful people who are caring and just good and honest people. Their lives revolve around the church and they go to daily mass. They are the type of people who will help others at the drop of a hat and with whom you can sit around for hours and shoot the breeze.

At one point, I sat there and looked at all of these beautiful people sitting around the big table who were all happily talking with each other and wondered what my life would have been like had my parents not left Kansas when I was a little girl? I would have grown up in Kansas instead of in Florida. Would I have been a competitive swimmer? Certainly I still would have been athletic, but would I have found basketball or volleyball more my style in the Midwest than joining the swim team? Would I have gone to the University of Kansas instead of Auburn in Alabama? Would I be a die hard Kansas City Chiefs fan? Who would I have married? Who would my friends be? How would my life be different if I would have had such a close connection to my roots when I was growing up? Would I even look the same?

I contemplated this for a time, and spoke with my mom about this. We discussed that even in her life, her parents made decisions that altered her life and those of her brothers and sisters. We discussed that each time a person moves from one house to another, it brings new friends and neighbors, new jobs bring relocations, and decisions about school and career bring new people, places and attitudes to a person’s life. We finally concluded that every person’s life will be altered numerous times based on the decisions of parents, grandparents, friends and relatives as well as our own decisions.

When I mentioned that I was sad that I hadn’t grown up around relatives that were close to me, one of the cousin’s wives said something I found interesting. She said that when you grow up around relatives who are so close, you don’t develop that as many friends who are really close.

I found that very interesting because my husband and I have such great friends in all of the many places where we’ve lived. We’ve spent holidays with friends more than we did relatives and have always enjoyed getting to see how different families spend the holidays. Since I was away from my family for 20+ years of my adult life, we always spent holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving away. Thinking of it in a positive instead of a negative, I decided that it was right for us.

But still, the game I’ve played is “what if” and I’d take my life down a certain path in my imagination. What if I played basketball instead of swimming competitively? What if I grew up going to a Catholic high school instead of public? What if I would have had so many close relatives and not as many close friends? Would my life be different spending more time in the country than in the suburbs or the city? Would I be a different person growing up around my mothers’ relatives instead of my fathers’? What if I had never gone and lived in Washington DC and become a lecture agent? What if I would have never lived in NYC? What if I would have never even gone away to school? What sort of person would I be instead of the person that I am today?

I’ve concluded that while I’m not perfect, that my life has been perfect. Even all of the struggles that I’ve faced, decisions I’ve made, people I’ve met, and even with the things that I would like to change about my circumstances, I don’t think I’d change a thing. All of the experiences that I’ve had, has made me into the person I am today. I am a combination of all of the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve had, the attitudes I’ve formed through the experiences that I’ve had, And, I have to say, I like who I am today. I’m an open minded, intellectually curious person, who is open to meeting and getting to know people from all walks of life. I’m not one to sit in the corner just with the people I know, but the one who will branch out and welcome others into the mix. I like people with different backgrounds than mine, and I like learning from them.

What I do know, is that I’m grateful that I come from such great “stock” as my mother says. I’m grateful that I have such amazing people to call “relatives” and happy that I felt a connection with these people who I have rarely seen in my life. I hope that I will maintain the relationships and stay in touch with them and make them apart of my life today.

And if I am to take away one thing from this experience, it’s that each one of us, regardless of where we come from, that we ultimately gets to chose who we become.

And I can feel grateful, my parents gave me roots, and then gave me wings.