Sunday, 15 January 2012


“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” (Colette)

At my annual medical checkup this year, my doctor informed me that, given my present medical stats, my lifestyle and commitment to healthy living, my family history of longevity, current medical advances, and barring any ugly surprises, I could probably expect to live another 40 or even 50 years.

Needless to say, I walked out of that appointment on a John Denver high. I know, poor example. Or is it? Because, in fact, our lives, long or short, healthy or otherwise, are primarily under our own control. Fifty, forty, even thirty years is a whole other lifetime. So I began to think, if I were to assume that all those years are ahead of me, how would I want to live them?
Like many woman my age, we occasionally reflect on our past lives, what we would have changed, how we could have done a better job as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Dysfunctional is a modern social term. Frankly I think it is a very inadequate and damaging word. Along with words like happy, unhappy, successful, unsuccessful, it is meaningless and vague, with as many different definitions as there are individuals, and even then the meanings, like us, continue to evolve. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are happy in the same way; unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I prefer to revise the line such that all families are both happy and unhappy in ways unique to themselves.

We become experts at revisionist history, especially our own history. And that is how we multiply the lives we have lived and continue to overlap them with our present selves. It is also how we bury the demons and nurture the best parts of our lives into manageable memories, to help us moving forward. To be honest with myself, if I had it to do all over, I would change many parts of my past life. But, as Lear said, “That way lies madness.” Instead I find myself returning to a new refrain. How do I want to live my “second life?”

I begin by examining those elements of my life that are under my control. What I eat and drink. How much I exercise. Who I spend time with. How I spend my personal time. What projects, challenges I want to explore. Where I want to travel. How I want share time with my family. How best to be a mother at a distance, and a grandmother at hand.
Suddenly the task of living this second life becomes full of questions and decisions. Perhaps the lingering regrets of parts of my first life are a result of having lived it carelessly and casually, taking so much for granted. Like the euphoria of stock market gains, we think the good times will never end. These glorious children will always be children. Income streams will continue to rise. Love and passion will never abate.

Clichés have their place as short forms to thinking, if only to help us get a head start on the program of living forward. Today is the first day…etc. How can I make each day valuable and productive? What is my idea of a good day? I will assemble a repertoire of moments that have given me pleasure; stock my portfolio with those occasions that provide the best returns; set manageable daily goals and create my own “Happiness Project”, living a life henceforth of least regrets. A daunting task, all this, but one I am fortunate to be able to begin. It may not be the road less travelled; on the contrary, I am hoping I will find many kindred “seconds” and even “thirds” along the way.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Welcome back soft treader! How wonderful that you are following the advice of King Lear - would that more did. Looking forward to blogs of your happy travels on the path of least regret.