26 August 2009

Late night philosophy...

I've tried to live my life by the saying, "I do not regret the things I have done but those I did not do," meaning to me that the choices that I make are less regrettable than the choices I've failed to make and opportunities I've passed. (Made famous among people my age by a cult movie Empire Records but a form of this can be attributed to Mark Twain. But anyway...) And then I had a couple shitty years and realized that in spite of trying to live free of regrets, I was accumulating them anyway. Apparently, there's no "do over" in life once you reach the age of 10, no matter how nice and convenient the option may be. But all choices have consequences and some leave us wondering what could have been - "what if?"

We all do this; we all play this game. Looking back, there's choices that didn't turn out so great - the end result was different than we expected and we're left to live with the aftermath. We don't regret, necessarily, the choices that we've made but from time to time we wonder if it was the best decision. Could we have played this a little better? Was there a better answer? I do this all the time, in regard to decisions I've made over the years.

Here's a good example: In April 2008, the Bee and I went to a pet store to look at puppies. I could stop right there and ask who in their right mind does that? Looking at puppies is one of those things you do that never ends well. But for the rest of that month and into May of that year, we pined over the boxer puppy at the pet store. We himmed and hawed about getting a dog, and what breed, and when to buy and how to pay for it. Not once did it occur to us that getting a dog would create wrinkles in our lives. And so one weekend in May, we bought a dog. A few days after that I picked him up and brought him home. And life has not been the same since.

Instead of being able to leave the house for hours on end, even to go to work, we now have the duty of making sure that Pootie gets outside on a regular basis for walks and potty trips, making sure he has food and water and toys and treats - all of the responsibilities that go along with owning a dog. Is this a decision I'd change? Would I call a "do over" on getting the Pootie? Probably not; I love his drooly, wrinkly little mug to death. But knowing what I know now, we probably would have nixed the idea of getting a boxer and gotten a dog more suited to our lifestyle. We would have thought about the hassle it would be to find a place to live that accepts dogs and the mess that living with a dog presents. We probably would have gotten a dog anyway but it would have been a more educated decision.

Maybe that's how I should approach this. Maybe I should say that I should have made more educated decisions in life. Maybe I should have stopped what I was doing and what I was thinking and considered all the outcomes (if that's even possible).

That said, if I lived my life more carefully, made my decisions more deliberately, there are some conversations I never would have broached. Topics best left alone, secrets never shared, complete situations avoided - and the domino effect that follows them would have been avoided, too. If I'd followed the path opposite to my gut, my instincts, my heart...

There it is - the big IF. What if...?

And *what if* I had? What if I'd done the opposite? Where would I be? What would I be? What would I have? If I called for a "do-over" on some of my biggest regrets, I wouldn't be here. And I wouldn't have some of the things I treasure the most. I wouldn't have the experiences, good and bad, that I feel have shaped the person I've become. Calling for a "do over" on some of my most painful memories takes away some of the happiest moments of my life. Maybe that just goes to show that you can't have one without the other - you can't have moments of pure joy without experiencing profound sadness. Gain is only appreciated by loss.

I've always felt it's better to know than to spend a lifetime wondering. Some people might feel that's akin to kicking a dead horse but the "what ifs" have always plagued me. What if I'd tried a little harder? What if I'd kept my mouth shut? What if I'd gone? What if I'd told the truth? Someone once told me that regret and guilt are feelings we put on ourselves; we're in complete control of inviting them to the table and similarly we can ask them to leave. No one can make us feel guilt - we do or we don't. No one can make us regret - we either do or we don't. But once they creep in they're hard to turn off.

What if, what if, what if...

"I do not regret the things I have done but those I did not do."


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