They say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one. It should be updated to say an imaginative person dies a thousand deaths, a dull person only one. In neuroscience, it’s been shown that the pain of loss is twice the joy of comparable gain. We feel loss more. The problem with an imaginative brain is that you can see all the possibilities and know you get to choose one, or perhaps a few, out of thousands. The thousand possible roads never taken–weighted or not, it’s overwhelming.
I look at my life and my one main regret is that I don’t write more. I procrastinate. I weigh choices, feel the ebb and flow of my emotions, and do nothing. It is an ongoing regret, but apparently not one I feel keenly enough to do squat about.
This summer, after Sandy’s death, I kept waking up in the middle of the night, scared of my own mortality. The feeling was, “Shit, I’m gonna die.” Which is hilarious, because I’m always thinking about how I’m going to die. I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to die since I was 11. I made a conscious choice to be Christian at that age to diversify my eternal risk–if there was no god, then I had nothing to lose, so might as well believe in one.
But now I’m at a weird age where my parents are really going to die in the soonish future, anywhere between now and twenty years from now. I have a teenager who is questioning her purpose her life, her meaning, probably because she’s thinking about how she’s going to die. (No, actually, I think she worries more about my mortality than hers.)
And you know the regrets of the dying? At least the ones in the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”? I’ve got them covered. Here they are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
I feel good about all of those points. I should be ahead! But I have this desire to make the world a better place by having lived in it, and I feel I’ve let the world down. What is my meaning? What is my purpose? Do I really have gifts that the world needs? (I sort of hate even writing that because it sounds a little too New-Agey for me) How self-effacing is that? It’s a weird mix of “who am I to feel like anyone special” versus “do what you gotta do then to make the world better, so why haven’t done it already?”
You know what brought this on? I was supposed to write a post for my business group last week, and now it’s two weeks late. And I just feel so lame. I had fun doing the exercise, but I have some block about actually writing stuff down. Woot, I get the prize for being lame.
It’s this feeling that my job isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life X I don’t want to die having nothing to show for the life I’ve lived X the worry that it won’t matter, really, whether I’m great or mediocre or nothing at all.
The feeling will pass, of course, it always does. (And of course, it will also come back) I know that in my small circle, my life does have meaning, at least to others. But it is irritating to me that I still have to wrestle with this stuff. Does a mind ever calm down?