The impact our daily, sometimes seemingly inconsequential, choices have on our lives long-term is absolutely oppressive to consider. If the “butterfly effect” is a concept any of us can find a even a grain of truth in, it’s paralyzing to think of the consequences of which subway car you choose on your route home tonight or which convenience store you stop into for gum and at what time or essentially where you are at any given moment and what you’re doing. The people you make fleeting eye contact with – or, even worse, talk to – the minor catastrophes you fall into or avoid completely, the scenes and images that serve to inspire or depress you in an instant. As an indecisive person whose panic swells and stiffens at the prospect of options and making a selection between them, decision-making to me is so overbearing that it almost invites a kind of recklessness; to relinquish control to fate or “what’s meant to be” for fear of forcing things unnaturally. For fear of later remorse and self-loathing. For fear of picking the wrong alternative when my natural inclination is to regret, regret, regret.
The people with whom I’ve once been intimate, or even shared a life, who are now strangers? The friends inexorably tied to my strongest memories- be them good experiences or bad – with whom I no longer speak? All of the what ifs, could have beens, why nots? My thoughts often gravitate to these circumstances, and how things would be now had a different decision at some point been made. My entire path in life thus far, and also into the future, digresses at various points to open possibilities that lay empty and unfulfilled. If only it were that a door could open without closing another. If only it were that I could try out my options and retrace my steps back if I change my mind. Or, if that’s rendered impossible, forget that I had any options in the first place once I’ve committed.
Being a very dysfunctional person for myriad reasons, I often marvel at how people can live with the burden this presents: that their life can be altered irrevocably by every tiny choice they make. I’ve found myself in both the luckiest and the least desirable circumstances imaginable, only to wonder what would have happened had I not walked down that street that day, or gone to that gathering, or went for a run or to grab a coffee at that location at that specific time. We stumble into and out of these nexuses of opportunity, often unknowingly, and end up where we are; some ever-changing, ever-fleeting place in time and space and relationships and life.
I had to review a book for work this month that invested a lot of time on this concept thematically, with the narrator finding himself in an absurd point in space-time that permitted him to relive and ruminate on his entire life, endlessly (the author was deft enough to aptly suspend disbelief). The details and nuance the protagonist failed to register the first time around, the types of microscopic, fleeting truths that can and would have changed the track of a life, become jarringly apparent upon his second and third visits to any given situation. And with limitless time on his hands and no other means with which to occupy it, he draws connections between the pinpoints of light that map his life, creating constellations and elucidating far more meaning than his real-time, 20-something self could discern. The regret I felt by the end of the narrative, for Daniel Solomon and for myself, was crushing… yet not substantially more than the amount I feel every day (for some reason or another, or for all of the reasons at once). My daily stream-of-consciousness feels like not the former iteration of Daniel, or like most people I suppose should and do carry on, but like the suspended-in-animation Daniel, more absent from the current moment and present in my thoughts than anything else. But where does it get me?
In some part, years of insecurity and self-conscious mannerisms – which I find to be more profound and affecting in women, who are taught to be so aware of themselves and their bodies and how they are perceived – have manifested in a lifetime of regret for almost everything I do. Even if there is no blatantly negative outcome, the fact that another choice may have been preferable and that I did not make that choice eats at me every day. Just not knowing for certain what reality another option would have yielded is all-consuming. And when things don’t go so well, oh boy… unfortunately there is no way to mitigate these feelings or even punish oneself appropriately. There is just sitting there, with an immense weight of regret and a nostalgia for a past or future I will now never have, and a whole slew of other less-great feelings. I admit that I spend too much time in the past/future/my head, but there’s no exact way to force yourself to exist solely in the moment; there’s just too much of life to contemplate and, really, complicate. But I’ll take my ruminations over some thoughtless, carefree existence nonetheless, because they give things – everything -texture and a greater significance, even if they are only varying shades of dark; my grand, dark, meaningful, rich (albeit myopic) internal world. Blaming myself for everything bad – or even just the absence of the spectacular – may be stupid (more painful than anything else), but so is remaining ignorant and inculpable and trusting that some force is making everything happen just as it “should.” As tempting as it is to be at either end of the spectrum, I’d like to think in time that I can drift somewhere further towards middleground. Where the burden of choice and accountability is there, but I’m okay with it. Functional. Here. And the only assuaging force that comes to mind is to take every opportunity that presents itself and just try.