The day is speeding by, far faster than it should. Now later than 7:30, I am stunned by how much time has roared by since I awoke. Have I been in a trance? Where have I been? How could more than two hours have slipped by so quickly? Those hours are gone, never to be retrieved and experienced again. Wasted, perhaps, since I do not know what occurred during those long minutes that hurried by so quickly. I should be happy that, in this moment, I am here. And I am happy. No, happy is not the word. Accepting, perhaps? I have no choice but to accept, so that is not it. Understanding? No. Content? Hmm. Maybe that’s it.. Sort of. Contentment, though, implies satisfaction, happiness, acceptance, embrace, etc., etc. Am I content, then?
The secret to contentment may be—but is not necessarily—found in the words of Lao Tzu:
In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.
Are those words soaked in wisdom, or are they awash in hope? Or, possibly, swimming in both? We seek simple answers to hideously convoluted questions; questions so tortuous and perplexing that even the most sophisticated answers would be horribly inadequate. Every question has an infinite range of answers. As the complexities of a question increase linearly, the potential answers increase exponentially. Even the simplest question is enormously complicated, because it is posed in the context of chaos. Life, itself, is chaos. A single cell in a distant rosebush can, conceivably, have ramifications on how much rain will fall on Saigon. That is stretching the concept of impact, of course, but it illustrates my point. Or, perhaps, it simply clouds an already muddy idea.
Finally, as I approach my seventh decade, I stumbled upon something I wish I’d known before: fast-track learning of Swedish through SIFA (Stockholms intensivsvenska för akademiker). If I had known about SIFA years ago, soon after my one and only trip to Stockholm, my life might have taken a radically different path. I fell in love with Stockholm during the few days I spent there. I fantasized about changing my life by moving to Sweden, where my attitudes about many aspects of life would be “main stream,” unlike where I lived in the U.S.A., where my ideas lived with the weirdos on the fringe. But I thought learning the Swedish language would have been next to impossible for me. Granted, I probably could have gotten by, because so many Swedes speak English. I would have felt extremely self-conscious and utterly inadequate, though, with my stunted linguistic facilities. Perhaps if I had known about SIFA, I might have taken the enormous risk of immersing myself in another culture, one which appealed to me so much. But I did not know of SIFA until this morning. I read an invitation to a Swedish fika on August 24, during an open house to introduce prospective students to SIFA; if I were twenty years younger, I might surprise myself (and everyone who knows me) by buying a one-way ticket to Stockholm, with the intent of determining whether my interest in living in Sweden is/was sufficient to spur me to learn to speak the language.
Alas, I am not twenty years younger. Twenty years have slipped by without my explicit consent. Those years are now lost and unrecoverable. Like the result of opting not to take a risk, the outcome of opportunities not taken can never be known. Opportunities and risks often live together; rejection of one is rejection of the other. Like decisions not made, opportunities and risks not taken are mysteries that never can be solved. Those ideas left languishing sometimes return in the form of regret, sometimes as relief. “That would have been a mistake” is a familiar refrain of mine, as relief floods over me for not doing something I once considered. But just as often, it seems, the language of my emotional response to a memory begins with “If only…” The only healthy response to those emotional reactions to what was or was not is an acknowledgement that one has control only over the present, not the past. And one’s control over the future is tenuous, at best. So now is what matters. Making the most of today is the best and healthiest approach. Yet I still permit myself to long for a life not lived, an experience not had, an interaction that took place only in my mind and not in the physical world in which I function. Daydreaming. “I wish” is an assertion bathed in regret, though some might say desire propels one toward achievements one would not make without it. “It depends,” always gets to the heart of the matter.
One of the attractions of Sweden is the culture’s embrace of a proverb, “Lagom är bäst.” The meaning of the phrase can be translated in any number of ways, but the ones that make the most sense to me are these: “enough is as good as a feast,” and “there is virtue in moderation” and “the right amount is best.” I like the attitude. And I like the open-mindedness of Swedes, in general. I realize that is a stereotype…and that there are plenty of Swedes who are bigoted…but the culture seems proud of its own willingness to accept reality for what it teaches. “It is what it is,” is a woo-woo phrase that embodies the concept, I think. Enough. I am wallowing in regret for something that exists only in my mind. That is dangerous. It can sever one’s ties to the present, potentially leading to unthinkable, irrevocable decisions. Best to stop before the tightwire snaps halfway across the canyon.
There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
~ Aeschylus ~
My memories this morning are, I think, attempting to crush me. They are succeeding. If I can just move on to something else, I might overcome the weight of those sweet, painful memories.