Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.
– e.e. cummings
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Maybe it’s reading passages like the one above, or maybe it’s because I’ve always felt older than my age. Not wiser, not more mature, but older. It’s not my fault, really. Momz has been inadvertently priming me for it most of my life. When I turned twenty-four, Momz started saying, “Now that my children are thirty…” When I hit thirty-two, she started asking, “Can you believe that you’re almost forty?” I still have well over a decade to go, but I have a feeling that our next conversations will begin with “Now that you’re approaching fifty…”
So, when I came across this article about the top regrets of the dying, I couldn’t help but be pulled in. After all, in my world, eighty-five is just around the corner, so I was curious to learn what I’ll be saying ten years from now. First of all, after reading the article, I was shocked to recognize four regrets possibly spilling out of my own mouth. Holy effing life reevaluation, Batman. Second of all, it struck me that all five regrets stemmed from one thing: personal choice, to be or not to be. But for some reason, I found these two to be the most intriguing.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
The number one regret. How does something as elementary as this become the number one thing people regret? How is it that we let our lives become defined by someone else’s expectations? Maybe it’s our cultural celebration of defying the odds, all the ABC After-School-Specials and the plethora of Hollywood endings, or the countless self-help books that we’re inundated with that make this surprising. Except that we all know lots of people who are “almost forty” or “almost sixty-five” who hate/dislike what they’re doing or the life they’re living. We all know people who have traded the pursuit of the life they want, the extraordinary pursuit of a life true to themselves, for the unremarkable pursuit of money or security or the comfort of what’s expected. Building the life that you want is a courageous thing, but it’s a choice. Hell, sometimes trying to figure out or discover what that life is can be an act of courage, or at least an endeavor that most will never put the effort into. And for most of us it requires a serious undertaking just to figure it out. Of course, whether to exert that effort or not is, again, another choice.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
The obvious regret. The epitome of personal choice. I consider myself a mostly happy guy, I’ve seen Life is Beautiful, I watched The Sessions, but I still get wrapped up in the myopia of my own little world and find myself getting morose about stupid stuff. When I totally bomb a painting, I brood and contemplate setting the studio on fire. It’s a lot of time and energy to devote to failing. Of course, were I wearing my happy pants, maybe I’d call it one more learning experience and be grateful that I was able to devote so much time to pursuing it. Obviously, it’s merely a matter of perspective – a choice of how to respond.
Whether we consider ourselves close to thirty, almost forty-five, or approaching sixty-five, we all have one thing in common: we are running out of time. I imagine that, when our own day of the dead arrives, most of us will regret something. What we regret, is solely our choice.
The painting above is part of The Hunert Faces Project. Special thanks to Javier Izquierdo and Laura Northrop for the brilliant submission to the project. Over the holidays, my Aunt B complained that you need an advanced degree to participate in this project. Javier and Laura said, naw naw, Aunt B, all you need to play this game is a good idea and a cellphone.