You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while.
"Watershed", Indigo Girls
I live in the past. I live with regrets. I live with "if only". I hate this but I cannot seem to get away from it. No matter how much I do, there is always something that I have not done. There is always a price. There is always something I missed.
I know, intellectually, that this is folly. How much can one do, after all? We have limited amounts of energy. If I am putting all of my mental energy into certain goals, it stands to reason that I will let other goals slide. It cannot be helped. And yet, I want to help it. I blame myself for not helping it.
How can I help it? I have always felt old. Even when I was a child, I wanted to go back in time and to start over. To get a second shot at the time and the life that I missed and that was taken from me by elements out of my control. Today, I tend to obsess about time I wasted and about what I lost. I am lost in my opportunities lost. I focus on my bad spending habits in the past. "If you had started saving when you were in college, like your sister, than you would have this, that or the other by now". I focus on my bad eating habits. When I was 14, I went on a diet. In my calendar, I wrote up a schedule of how much I was going to lose each week. By a certain month, I would hit my target weight. Of course, I did not succeed. To this day, I still find myself thinking back to that marked-up calendar and asking myself "what if you had stuck to it? What if you had gone through your adolescence thin and pretty instead of fat and dorky? What life would you have had?" I focus on my stupid, stubborn choices. After 35 years of an often exhausting, often successful and occasionally futile battle with PDD/NOS, I finally gave in and accepted a crutch. I started anti-depressants. (The one good thing that came out of my bout with thyroid cancer). Today, instead of focusing on the 2.5 good years since then, I focus on the years before—"if only I had started this earlier". You see, I have high standards. I am harsh on myself when I do not live up to them.
I rarely live up to them.
Recently I have been thinking to myself: "Gila, you have got to get off this motherfucking negative train". This is not thanks to the ongoing efforts of my close friends to get me to stop beating myself up (though I love them for it, and know I am blessed for having them). It was not my blog-based analysis of the near-death experience that was the bombing that opened my eyes. It was not anything it should have been It was a series of curious, unrelated events. But then, that is how these things normally happen, isn't it?
First, over the last year I have had the opportunity to meet several children, adolescents and young adults "like me", or rather, the way I was as a child, as an adolescent and as a young adult. They do some of the same things I did. They screw up in some of the same ways I screwed up. They are often behind—immature for their ages—like I was. They communicate with others and act and react to situations and stimuli in similar ways to the way I did at their ages. Some of them are not keeping up with their siblings, just as I did not keep up with mine. Nonetheless, they are not bad. They are not lazy. They are not defective. They are not ungrateful. They are not stupid. They are on their own, individual timetables. It has been eye-opening to watch them. I see how wonderful and absolutely incredible they are. I see how much I love them, especially my "girls". I see how strong they are. I see their potential and how far they are going to go. I see their weaknesses and their fashlas (screw ups) and their fears and for what they are: weaknesses and fashlas and fears, and not hideous character defects. I watch them and I understand that this fighting with demons—this learning to be normal—takes a lot of time, strength and energy. It is a top priority, so it has to come before other things, like doing the stuff that everyone else does. I am learning to view my past (and my present) in a different light.
I have had the opportunity to meet young people. Not young in calendar years, but in outlook. I did the Alyn Ride and had my ass kicked by 80 year olds. I read a blog post written by Savta Dotty, who described how she has always felt 26. Even though, in calendar years, she is 71. I have met her. I agree with her. Twenty-six is far more accurate. I want to be like that. Why feel old if I can feel young? Why assume that if I have not achieved x by age 40, I will never achieve it?
Finally, last week, in advance of our 20th high school reunion, one of my fellow classmates sent out an email describing where he was in his life. Suffice it to say, that it was picture-perfect. Married, three children and successful in his career. I felt bad. I felt like a failure. I am single. I have no children. Work has not been going particularly well. But then I thought: "what if you were to send out your own email? Do you really think that people would be saying 'what a loser'? It is more likely that people would be impressed. Some might even be envious." (I am sorry—I know that this is catty. But it is also quite cool.)
I have been thinking about just how much these negative thoughts cost me. I have been thinking of my future. Enough! Forget about the past! What is done is done! How much will I lose, what is the price I will pay if I continue on this way? How much of my life will I enjoy and appreciate only in retrospect? How much of my follies and failings will I find it easy to forgive and understand only in retrospect? Maybe, just maybe, I can take the forgiveness, on credit, and move on?
I am 37 years old. Let me assume that (please G-d) I have another 30 years (am trying to be conservative). Imagine the amazing things I could do in that time:
I could fall in love. Someone could fall in love with me.
I could get married and raise a family. Even if I only manage to get married in a few years, and can no longer have kids, I could adopt.
I could get involved politically and change my beloved country.
I could continue to volunteer where I am now. In 30 years, I could help to change the lives of 60 young women. As they grow and build successful lives…I would know that I had a little piece in that.
I could start and build and succeed in a whole new career. Like Jewish education, for example
I could write ten books.
I could go on 30 trips abroad. I could cycle all over Europe. I could hike the Appalachian Trail. I could spend a year or two working in South America, learning Spanish and the amazing Latino culture.
I could learn better financial habits so that I am putting my money where I really want it to be.
I could get myself in shape and polish up my appearance and spend the rest of my life looking good and feeling confident and pleased with what I see in the mirror.
I could learn: to sew, to sing, to play piano, to make sushi and to speak several new languages.
I could do anything. I can do anything.
I have tried to get off this train before. I have failed. But I tried to quit smoking for years and years before I finally succeeded. Maybe this time will be the time I make it.