Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Might Have Been

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~Fulton Oursler

Endings and beginnings often bring times of reflection. As we transition to a new year we make resolutions, and imagination sprouts wings to fly forward toward new possibilities. Simultaneously we sometimes find ourselves pensively pondering the past. I've done this, and maybe you've done it, too, lamenting over castles built of air, mirages now disassembled.

Volumes have been written of regret, a theme that appears in stories as divergent as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Andre Gide's beautifully heartbreaking Isabelle.

The other night a very minor incident brought to mind how people can beat themselves up over things that are done and gone and can't be changed. And how regret kills the spirit. How do we resolve this? Do we ignore the past and only direct our gaze toward the future?

Such a stance will likely prove unprofitable. Why? Because there is a balancing truth. We can learn lessons from our past that help us in our futures. Sometimes that twinge of pain is a reminder, too, that our inner healing is incomplete.

There's no great harm in feeling a little blue about what might have been. Just don't live there.

Gurdjieff once compared our life experiences to food which we eat but is not always digested at the same rate of speed. Some experiences may take years to process, emerging from the subconscious to haunt us at unexpected times. That's the nature of bereavement.

Ultimately, the movement of our inward journeys should be toward healing so that we can fully appreciate and enjoy the present that we live in. May your 2012 be one of continued growth in strength and understanding.

Here's a poem by Abraham Lincoln that I found in a 1996 volume called Best Loved Poems of the American People. In explaining the poem later to a friend he said a certain recollection put in "in a poetizing mood."


My childhood's home I see again,

And sadden with the view;

And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world

'Twixt earth and paradise,

Where things decayed and loved ones lost

In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile,

Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,

Like scenes in some enchanted isle

All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye

When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar--

So memory will hallow all

We've known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away

Since here I bid farewell

To woods and fields, and scenes of play,

And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain

Of old familiar things;

But seeing them, to mind again

The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day,

How changed, as time has sped!

Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,

And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell

How nought from death could save,

Till every sound appears a knell,

And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,

And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)

I'm living in the tombs.

Originally published anonymously in 1847.

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