Who out there remembers “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? I’m not sure when they were first published, but they were readily available to me as a child, and I loved them.
For those of you unfamiliar, they were these amazing books where the reader had the ability to, at certain critical points during the story, choose what might happen next. I say might, because of course you never really knew what the best decision would be. Should you follow old man Withers down the spooky tunnel to the left in an attempt to find the buried pirate treasure? If so, please turn to page 56. To go it alone with Sally, please turn to page 73…and so forth.
Did you trust old man Withers? He had only recently been introduced to the storyline, and you hadn’t yet developed a solid level of trust with him. Truth be told, he gave you the heebie-jeebies. Then again, you and Sally didn’t have a ton of pirate treasure finding experience. You could get killed by the creeper, or by a freak rock slide. You just never knew.
Of course the best part of the book was that if you made the “wrong” decision, you could always go back to the decision making page and choose the alternate ending. Not so with real life.
Which got me to thinking…..if you were handed a Choose Your Own Adventure book about your life….and you were given the opportunity to read it, would you?
There are, of course, obvious pros and cons to both scenarios. I can’t think of a single person I know who can say that they haven’t made mistakes…or have no regrets. Or ask for a “do-over” for that matter.
Regrets are an interesting thing. From a Buddhist perspective, feeling guilt and having regrets means that one has not made peace with their past, has not grown from the experience and in turn does not have the capacity to live in the present, to be in the now.
Who doesn’t know someone who is angry and bitter….living in the past, blaming others for their misfortune, their bad luck, the way their life has turned out. For someone with this mindset, life is like eternal purgatory….or hell on earth.
I do believe that making mistakes and having regrets are perfectly human. To suffer through the pain of a poor choice, to feel the intense heartache of a choice not made and then to be able to reflect upon it all in order to achieve personal growth is a gift. However this gift doesn’t come beautifully wrapped with a bow on top. More often it is wrapped in old newspaper, or tin foil, or put in a paper sack. Not very attractive from the outside, but radiant and glorious on the inside. You have to peel away all those layers to get to the good stuff. Kind of like people sometimes…..anyway….
We all have our stories of regret and one of mine involves my grandmother. Thirteen years ago she was dying of cancer and I was so completely self absorbed in my own life that I ignored the fact that she was withering away. That might be embarrassing to some people, but it’s the truth…and the truth is often grotesque and hurtful.
As a single mom selling advertising for a local newspaper, my hours were long. My son was in latchkey every day after school, and it wasn’t unusual for us to get home after 7 or 8 pm every single night. I was so worried about keeping food on our table and a roof over our heads (not to mention meeting that sales quota!!!) that I didn’t have a lot of time for anything other than work. I was completely detached from my family, my friends and most of all from myself.
After suffering for close to a year, my grandmother finally went in to the hospital on October 29. My son and I went to visit that day and while she recognized us, she wasn’t able to speak. There was talk of hospice, as it was becoming far too much for my grandfather to handle. This should have been a huge slap of reality to the face, but still I ignored.
The next day it was “business as usual,” my son went to school and I went to work. At the end of the day, both of us exhausted, we decided not to go to the hospital to visit. We agreed that we would get up extra early the following morning before school and work.
We never got that chance.
My mother called me after midnight, sobbing. “She’s gone.”
Gone. I would never get the chance to say goodbye….to look this woman square in the eyes and tell her that I loved her and to thank her….for everything she had done for me and for everything that she had taught me.
Regret is one of the heaviest loads to bear. “I wish I would have’s” and “if only’s” abound.
I spiraled in to a deep depression and my life plummeted swiftly downward. I started examining my life and my relationships with everyone in it. I started examining my relationship with myself. I was angry at life, confused….I felt cheated. I couldn’t figure things out so I did the only thing that made sense to me. I decided it was time to go home.
I went in to work one morning and told my boss I was leaving. She of course, thought I was crazy. After all, I was choosing the “to jump off the edge of a cliff with no solid financial plan in place and with no stinking clue as to how this is all going to turn out but I feel like it’s what I need to do right now” option, kindly turn to page 107. Ugh.
So I left my job, moved us in with my grandfather, transferred my son to a different school district, got rid of a ton of “worldly possessions” (due to lack of space, not enlightenment), and took a job as a waitress in order to make my car payment. And then I waited. I waited for the answers to come to me, even though I knew that they might never come.
The next 9 months of my life were filled not so much with answers, but with lessons. Lessons in patience, understanding, compassion, gratitude and servitude. But mostly of love.
Sadly, my grandfather passed away not even one year after my grandmother. He himself had gotten cancer, but his decline was much more rapid. One morning he walked in to his doctor’s appointment for a checkup, and by the following morning he was gone. He died at home, and I was with him.
Seeing my grandfather pass so quickly prompted a lot of people I knew to ponder why some people suffer and linger at great lengths, and why others go so quickly. I thought about that a lot and I finally came to a conclusion.
I like to joke that my grandmother waited until she knew for sure that my grandfather could make himself a sandwich, wash the dishes and do a load of laundry by himself (all things he had never done their entire married life) before she felt she could go. That’s how I like to think of it anyway.
The truth is, had I the chance to read ahead in my Choose Your Own Adventure book, I would have made another choice. Had I gotten to the part where my grandfather would pass away in less than a year, I would have turned back. Had I read ahead to the pain and suffering, I would have turned back. Most people do not willingly approach conflict and heartache. In fact, we do all we can to avoid that junk like the plague. The problem is, that decision, and every consequent decision I have made afterward, has brought me to the here and now. Had I made even one decision any differently, my life would be….well, completely different.
And I wouldn’t have learned so much about myself, or about life.
“…..and I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain…..but I’d have had to miss the dance.” ~Garth Brooks
Granny, I missed out on the opportunity to tell you while you were still here, but please know this: I would not be the woman I am today if not for you….you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, you loved me unconditionally and you passed down all your Appalachian Goddess wisdom to me, which I promise to pass on to my daughter. Thank you for all the lessons you taught me in life, but especially for the ones you taught me in death. Thank you for the greatest lesson of all. I love you.
So….back to original question….in the end, would I choose to read ahead in my Choose Your Own Adventure book?
Instead, I am choosing to Write My Own Adventure….and to be the author of my life. All of it. The good, the bad, the ugly…..and the phenomenally beautiful.
Peace, love and blessing to all……