Friday, 6 November 2015

How what could have been ruins the present

There are moments in our lives when we reflect whimsically upon the past- some are more prone than others to reminisce ad nauseum about a time when everything was better and to dwell on gilded, embellished memories. The truth is the past is a wildly foreign place- one where our recollection of the things we did and the rules we lived by are seen badly through the dense fog of time.

Recent events in Paris led me to amble down nostalgia lane and wonder about ex-boyfriends, whether they had been affected and if they were OK. I also found myself thinking what my life would had been like if I had actually married them. Strangely and perhaps I am hopelessly fickle but I concluded that I probably wouldn’t even still find them attractive anymore. It did however lead me to ask:

As we look behind us did our lives turn out the way we thought they would? And if we were able to revisit our past would we return as we are now or at the age we were then? I'd definitely want to go back in my current mental state; in other words I'd look like the twenty-something year old I was then but with the sabre-like clarity of mind I have now. Had I been this wise at twenty-five, my life would have been very different. I would have been a lot more ruthless and self-serving in the decisions I made, particularly professionally and hell, even romantically. I would have understood straight away that when men say ‘I love you’, they are not always telling the truth which would have in turn spared me a lot of childish anxiety. I would have put myself first and toppled all the other pieces on life's chessboard around me to the ground. I would also have certainly been more ambitious and single-minded about my future.

Ironically, what could have been is not about missing the chance to become more loving or kinder but about the self and its ego; when we look back, the centre of our vision is what we could have done to make our lives easier and eradicate the obstacles and challenges (and pain) we had to endure.  Yet and in spite of all the 'bad' things we have had to experience, it is a combination of what could have been, maybe even what we had secretly hoped for and what was, which have brought us to our current reality. Therefore it is better to forget that old question of whether we would change anything we did in the past of if we regret what we did.

Part of the process of getting old is becoming wiser and I would argue that any part of our lives where we wallow in grief about the past is not only obviously futile but also shows a distinct lack of understanding. Furthermore what could have been is essentially what we wished we had done but our desires then and in the very real present, the now, are completely different. A friend once confessed how much he regretted not becoming a lawyer. He used the excuse that his wife hated him attending night class when she wanted them to spend time together instead. And then children came along. When I asked him how his life would have been different had he become a lawyer, he gave the obvious response: that he would have been wealthier. And to his dying day he would speak about the money he would have made had he followed his dream.  He never really resolved within his mind the decision he had made and so it tormented him throughout  his entire life. Another example, would be the men we rejected simply because we weren’t sufficiently in love. Or in my case, maddeningly, crazily, passionately, mind-blowingly in love, which was the only scale of love I knew. There are moments now when I wish I hadn’t been so capricious because as women up and down the land will tell you, it's hard to find an intelligent, sane, available man these days.  (Women my age have a better chance of being abducted by aliens.)

The expectations of youth and the second half of a life are completely at polar opposites; love is no longer the burning firecracker it once was but rather a more gentle philosophical union of mind, body and spirit. The blush and earnestness of one’s ‘salad days’ are replaced by fewer but more implacable demands borne of a jaded awareness that affection often comes disguised as emotional slavery. And yes, as one gets older, a desire for peace and tranquillity is more alluring than the cacophony of sensory madness.

In the end, when we look at the years which have gone by, and it seems in the blink of an eye, only a wise man would readily admit that we brought about our own punishments in this life. It wasn't always the hand of fate that guided us as we sometimes shot for the stars and missed. Our own choices dictated the way our lives turned out whether for better or worse. Yet, I say this: there is no shame in dreaming, wanting and wishing or grasping the short straw. A wise man ought to suffer the punishment for the wrong choices with grace. Indeed he would be grateful that what could have been never happened. 


Photo copyright SvD.

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