Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Speaking with a friend of mine, we started talking about life choices. My regular readers know that I carry with me a lot of baggage. I refer to my “demons” as the regrets over individual decisions from my past. I replay events and conversations over and over, thinking about what I did, or how I would do things differently now and as a result lose a lot of sleep.
But the thing is that individual events don’t matter nearly as much as the overall direction of life. I guess this argument might fall apart for somebody who murdered their spouse with an ax, but generally speaking, most of us have regrets from our past. My prom was so bad that I didn’t even walk my date to her door. I waited to be sure she got in safely, but we weren’t getting along well that night. I was eighteen at the time, and quite young, but it’s still baggage that I carry with me. I admit that one is basically a makeup bag, but it all adds up.
This all means that this is not a post telling you that you’ll be happier if you just lose your emotional baggage. We all know this already, but frankly, it’s easier said than done, and if I had any great insightful advice on how to do so, I wouldn’t be blogging about feeling guilty about waiting for my prom date to get safely inside her house as opposed to physically walking her to her door.
My friend was talking about the father of her daughter who, apparently, has other children as well and has stopped all support on all of them. Through the discussion, she was regretting her choice of men (him among them). This is, unfortunately, all too common of a complaint for many of us, myself included. Her daughter is, of course, absolutely adorable and a joy in her life. But neither is this a “silver lining” post. We know that as well.
Yes, she has a beautiful daughter, but the thing I really want to discuss is how well she is doing. Like all of us, yes, she has made her mistakes and, undoubtedly, will continue to do so but overall, she’s doing well.
Our conversation had me thinking about this. I’ve made my mistakes, I live with my regrets, but overall I think I’ve done well with my life. That doesn’t mean that I’ve accomplished everything that I’ve wanted in life. I don’t have a wife, and I have no children, but I’ve accomplished quite a bit and I would like to think that I have been a positive influence on the world and I hope I will continue to be so. I’ve taught literally thousands of college students, I’ve contributed at least a little bit to the body of scientific work of the world, and I try to live a life of example for the way people should treat each other even if they don’t always do so.
In the long run, I doubt that people will remember me for the mistakes I’ve made. They might remember stories and specific anecdotes that they can share, but overall, they are far more likely to remember me for who I was, the life that I’ve lead, the legacy I’ve left behind, and the impact I’ve had on their lives.
People (including me) worry so much about the day to day decisions of their lives, and sometimes they can be quite impactful. Students in high school right now are wondering if they should go to college, or what to major in if they do, or how to get a job if they don’t. These are pretty big decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, of that there is no doubt. But I wonder if there really is a “wrong” decision. The way that they live their lives, be it in service of others or selfish pursuits, is a decision that they will make regardless of whether or not they go to college and is a reflection of their character, not their education. And, yes, they can change paths like that along the way, but in the end, how somebody lived their lives is probably what matters most.
I sometimes think about what life would be like for me if I ended up in a retirement home. Here’s this crazy old guy who claims he has a doctorate, claims he taught for twenty years, claims he owned a business, claims he was a dean, claims he was the director of a forensic lab. He says he wrote programs, and obtained accreditation for his lab, and says he lived in Boston, New York, Rapid City and so forth. Will anybody believe me? Will it really matter? They won’t have to believe stories about how I treat them, though. Kindness, compassion, love, tenderness…maybe, just maybe, these are the things that really matter.