It’s hard to imagine that I would ever put Angelina Jolie’s name in anything I ever wrote or talked about, much less in the same sentence with me. But I was thinking about her recent interview on 60 Minutes and her comment that she had done the most “dangerous” and the “worst” things, and that for many reasons she shouldn’t be here.
Watching Investigation Discovery (ID) Television also makes me think about why I made it through the gauntlet of being young and stupid and so unequivocally sure that everything I thought, write, read or did was so smart. I, too, am shocked to be here. Like a white noise machine, I keep ID TV on in the background when I am working: doesn’t require me to pay attention, doesn’t matter if I miss a whole interview or more, I get the gist. And although the crimes investigated are, most often committed by people who know each other, a good many are not. A random meeting at a bar, someone follows someone home, it sounds farfetched, but then again, we still don’t know what happened to that lovely young college woman in Indiana, Lauren Spierer. One day she’s happy to be back at school and having fun at a party—the next day, she’s gone.
And so where usually I try to focus on all that has happened in my life and all that I have that I am grateful for—I also think about all the things that didn’t happen.
The things in the past, the crazy parties, the places I went where I shouldn’t have gone, the hitchhiking I did all over the place… the things that could have gotten me in trouble, death, injury, communicative disease. But it’s not only the things that I have done that might have caused a less than positive outcome—to put it mildly!—it’s also the things, the every day things that turned out OK, when they might not have.
Like when we were in Uganda shooting Yearning to Belong. There was lots of politicking going on because in a few weeks, an election was taking place. One day, driving through a village, we were surrounded by people engaged in a peaceful march. The car began to sway as the mass of people, in excitement, peered inside the car (cars are not a run-of-the mill occurrence in the villages)—but the crush of people was frightening, and their excitement could have gone in another direction. I saw this ending badly. Images of South Africa and Amy Biehl never left my mind until…well, they’ve never left my mind.
I suppose we all have those things that didn’t happen, calamities that passed us by, a missed flight, decision not to study forensic science, to dump the boyfriend before anything got too crazy—I am so grateful for all those things I didn’t do, didn’t happen to me, didn’t succumb to. Truly grateful for that which never befell. When I think of what might have been. I am truly, astonished, and grateful.