When was the last time you wished you could have a do-over? Maybe it was something as big as taking a chance on a job with that new company that ended up not quite making it, or maybe it was something not so big – maybe having that third helping at dinner that kept you up all night. But if you’re like most people, you’ve probably wished for a do-over on something in the relatively recent past.
Me? Today, actually. Oh, and yesterday. Also I think three days ago. No, I’m not the Queen of Regrets. I don’t live in a perpetual state of “what if’s” and “if only’s.” In fact, I’ve always been something of a Pollyanna, a fact that has proven to be more than a little irritating at times to those closest to me.
But there is something alluring about the possibility of a do-over, and lately, as I’ve stumbled my way through a few of life’s trials and am looking down the barrel of the shotgun of big changes, I’ve noticed a tendency to wish for them a bit more frequently.
My most recent do-over wish was to get another stab at raising my sons. Not that I think I was a bad mom; it’s just that I think I could have been better. I see other parents reasoning with their toddlers and think, wow, I yelled way too much. I see friends’ sons making Eagle Scout and I think, we probably should have stuck it out past cubs.
I see my nieces and nephews teaching their children amazing, important things, like when my niece Holly and her husband, Andy, take their young daughters to the cemetery on Memorial Day, where they look for the headstones of veterans and lay white roses on their graves, and I think, why didn’t it ever occur to me to do that instead of hitting Lake Mead for that first big weekend of waterskiing?
And there are other things I’ve wished I could do over. Here I am, fifty-six years old; why am I just now dipping my toes in that big ocean called “writing” when I’ve known since I was six that I loved to write? (Okay, maybe twelve. Six just sounded better juxtaposed with fifty-six.)
Why didn’t I go to college? Was I in that big a hurry to get out of the house and into the work force? And why did I become a secretary? Was it just because my mother was a secretary? There are a million other things I could have done. Or half a dozen anyway.
I’m not alone in wishing I lived in do-overland. It’s a topic that comes up with my friends from time to time. I have one friend who is a staunch believer that all married people ought to get one free do-over, right around mid-life somewhere, although we all pretty much agree it would be way too much work to start over and that we’d just settle for a well-stocked library (you thought I was going to say wine cellar, didn’t you? Well, that too.)
Admit it. You’ve got your own secret do-over wish list. It’s okay. We all have them. The thing is to not let them take over your life. To not get so lost in the longing for the do-over that you end up not doing anything now.
There was a short-lived television show a few years ago called Joan of Arcadia, about a teenage girl who received strange assignments from God. God appeared to her in the guise of different people each week. Yes, it was a little peculiar, but actually I thought it was a pretty good show. It didn’t have any violence or sex and each episode had a moral to it. The theology was a little iffy but I don’t get my theology from television so that didn’t bother me.
Anyway, I remember one episode where Joan’s mother was seeking the counsel of a priest because she was having difficulty accepting that her son, Joan’s older brother, had been left a paraplegic after a car accident. She broke down at the thought of all the things she would never see him do – walk across the stage to get his diploma, play football, walk down the aisle, etc. The priest said to her something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “The most painful memories are the memories of the things that will never be.”
And so it is with our do-over lists. Is it wrong to have them? No. It’s human. The trick is to remember that our “memory” of what life would be like if we could just have that do-over is only a fantasy, a house built of cards over there on the other side of the fence, where the grass is greener. It might be fun to look at in that perverse way we have of enjoying a dose of misery now and then, but would we really want to get our do-over?
I wish I had gone to college. And maybe law school. But I actually love being a secretary and I count among the people closest to my heart friends I never would have met had I been anything else. And writing? Well, I’ve been writing correspondence and briefs and motions my whole career. And the past few years I’ve been given the opportunity to do some speechwriting. In fact, if I never get published anywhere else, at least I know this: Two speeches I’ve written have been published and are on the shelves of every law library in the State of California. My name doesn’t show up anywhere, true, because speechwriters don’t write and tell, but I know they’re out there.
And my boys. Yes, I yelled a lot. But we also laughed a lot and talked a lot and played a lot and read a lot, and in the big scheme of things I don’t think my yelling scarred them too deeply. We never made it past Cub Scouts. Heck, with the second son we never even made it to Cub Scouts. But we went camping and hiking and boating and skiing as a family. (One time they even made a tiny little barge and piled it high with sticks and leaves and set it on fire, then sent it floating down the stream in the wood near our house. That, however, was not a good thing – a fire in the mountains of Southern California in the summer? We had deputy sheriffs knocking at our door over that one. But that’s a story for another post.) And if they think Memorial Day is the day we celebrate the beginning of waterskiing season, well, I guess it’s not too late for me to remedy that. Maybe this year I’ll round them up and take them to a cemetery with an armload of white roses instead.
The point is, they’ve both grown into admirable men. They are hard workers and good providers. They are kind and good and honest. If I had a do-over, they might turn out differently; in what way would I possibly want them to be any different than they are now?
If our most painful memories are the memories of the things that will never be, then I, for one, think I’ll choose instead to slip back into my Pollyannaesqueness (how’s that for a word?) and let the good, happy memories of the things that actually were fill my mind and soul for a while. And make some new ones to fill my mind and soul in the years to come.