ALL THE THINGS WE HAVEN’T DONE
A friend once said something that I’ve never really forgotten.
Some years ago, when I was a student in England, I was living in a somewhat creepy mansion-turned student hall with many students who came from different countries. We each had our own rooms, but we shared common areas—like the kitchen where we cooked our meals, the laundry room where we washed our clothes, and a living room where we sometimes gathered to watch football on TV. These friends were, like me, getting used to living in a foreign place away from their families. And so we became each other’s family while we lived together.
When our respective graduations neared, which meant we’d soon be heading back home, it began to dawn on us that we’d probably never be together again like this: sharing a meal, talking about our professors or heartaches or hangovers. Sure, we might visit each other, but it was doubtful that all of us would be in the same country all at once, and even if it happened, our lives would have moved on in different directions, and we’d no longer have that intimacy of living under one roof together.
During those last few weeks, while some friends and I were having dinner, I expressed some regret that I hadn’t found the time to be with each of them a little more. And that’s when my friend Mette (a law student and an amazing concert pianist) said, thoughtfully:
“Yes, I think of that too. But we cannot live a hundred lives in a year.”
I sometimes remember what she said whenever there are things I feel bad about not being able to do. Things like:
- Spending more time with my brothers and parents (why do we work so hard?)
- Drawing/writing/going out more
- Not being able to invite every single wonderful person I knew to my wedding (a logistical and financial impossibility)
- Not being able to get to know certain people more, or to keep in better touch with friends and family
- Not spending more time with my grandmother, who has passed away
- Etc. Etc. Etc.
Another friend, Terrie (now an editor in Singapore), said something else that also sometimes comes to mind: back when I was trying to decide whether or not to leave my job in order to write, she had this to say:
“It’s unrealistic to try to make a decision you will not regret. Whatever decisions we make, there will always be regrets.”
The point of all this, I guess, is that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do more things—to have more fun or be more successful, to travel or exercise more, to be more outgoing, or to make more time to work on whatever personal project has been nagging us for years. But we can’t chase every dream, explore every possible love affair, and keep in perfect touch with every single friend, relative, or wonderful person that has passed through our lives. There’s no harm in trying, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we don’t get to do it all–or if we do things that don’t work out the way we wish they did.
I guess what matters is that we’re grateful for all the details we manage to put into the life we do lead. I myself have to keep reminding myself this.
We can’t live a hundred lives in just one life. That’s just the way it is, and it’s okay.