I am 22 years old, and I am driving down an empty stretch of highway. Cornfields wave at me as I pass them by in my champagne-colored Pontiac Bonneville—Bonnie, as I’ve so appropriately named her—and the Indigo Girls sing from my speakers, reminding me that the fewer questions I ask, the closer I will be to fine.
Apparently, I really am taking the blue-hued ladies’ advice: a friend asked if I wanted to move to Colorado after graduation, and without really asking any questions, I said yes. We had found an apartment during a spring break trip to Denver, and now, with diploma in hand, I’m headed west.
I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do when I arrive. I have no plan. I have no job. The only thing I have is an apartment to live in, a friend to live there with, and the help of my father for a few days. In my rear view mirror, I see him in the cab of a U-Haul, one that is carefully packed with my childhood memories and the makings of my future.
I’m at a crossroads: a place where I’m a little lost and unsure about what I want out of life. But I have no time to worry about these things right now; I have to pay attention to the road. The mileposts flash by as I turn up the stereo and start singing along to this song, one that gives me hope that things really will work out just fine.
* * *
I was reminded of that drive the other day when a friend asked me a question: What was the decision that changed the course of your life the most?
Of course, many decisions have affected my life—such as getting married, having a child, or taking a new job—but moving to Colorado definitely was the decision that has dictated so much of my future. Looking back, I often wonder why I did it. It was so out of character for someone who struggled with every single move my family made while I was growing up. But if you asked me now what I was thinking during that period of my life, I can honestly tell you what my answer would be:
“I don’t know if I was thinking at all.”
Nevertheless, it was a decision I made, and it’s one that I could very easily regret—because to an untrained eye, a quick glimpse into my life might suggest that things really didn’t work out fine: I’m a 30-something divorced, single mom, living in a place where I have no other family of my own, working at a job that doesn’t necessarily line up with my dreams. I have a world of responsibilities—responsibilities that fall squarely on my shoulders. My daughter—who is my life—splits her time between two homes. I left the security and stability of a house—a structure that implies that there are roots firmly holding you in one place—to move back into an apartment. On my worst days, I feel untethered, suspended in what would best be described as “the middle place.”
I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I’d stayed back in Ohio. My guess is that it would be very different than what it is like now, but then again, how am I to know? Would I be married? If I was, would we have a perfect little suburban house? Would we have a couple of kids? Would I have a different career? Would I even be working at all? Would I love my life? The only answer I can give to these questions is maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I could sit and wonder about what my life would be like, but where would that get me? Engaging in that kind of wonder can be a slippery slope, because oftentimes it can lead you down the road of regret. To be perfectly honest, that’s not a road I want to be on.
Our lives really are just a series of risks and decisions, right? Are some of those risks amazing opportunities for growth? You bet. Are all of our decisions good ones? Heck no. But all of them–both good and bad—have brought us to where we are right now. Because the truth is, we are our past, so regretting anything means you regret yourself, and life is way too short to not love every last bit of who you are and where you came from.
Instead, spend your time celebrating every last good, bad, challenging, amazing decision that made you YOU and brought you to where you are today. Remember the lessons you’ve gathered along the road of life and use them to help forge your future path. Rest assured, you’ll come across roadblocks and be forced to take a few detours now and again, but think about all the beautiful things you stumble upon when you go off the beaten path every once in a while. And while you’re at it, if your gut tells you to turn right even though all the signs tell you to turn left, turn right. Because life’s also too short to have any regrettable what if’s.
As for me, I choose to celebrate my past and to be grateful for the fact that it brought me to the place I am today. Because from where I stand, here’s what my life looks like: I’m a 30-something-year-old who has one of the best jobs in the world—being a mother to my amazing daughter, Zoey. I’m no longer living a life where I make mindless decisions: I’m taking the time to be intentional with what it is I’m choosing for my life. I’m rediscovering my passion for writing. After a year, I’m finally feeling rooted inside the four walls that I call “home,” even if they aren’t those of a “house.” And after years of not feeling much, I’m finally in a place where I feel something so very wonderful…
It is a hope that helps me believe that maybe one day I will pack up again and drive somewhere new. And perhaps just a few cars behind me—just like he was all those years ago—there my father will be, driving a U-Haul, one that is filled to the brim with my belongings, and again, nestled in between, the makings of my future.
Perhaps Zoey and I will be the only ones arriving at our final destination, or perhaps there will be someone else with us—someone else whose curving roads all pointed there, too. And instead of saying, “I can’t believe what I had to go through to get here,” I will say, “I’m so glad for everything that has happened to bring me to this beautiful, blessed NOW.”
So regret? Yeah, I’ll be having none of that.
* * *
* * *
“Can we go a different way home?” Zoey’s sweet voice rises from the backseat. I’ve just picked her up at school, and we are about to drive off.
I turn around, curious as to why she wants to do this. I wonder to myself if she may have a plan up her sleeve, one that involves convincing me to take her out to dinner or for a late-afternoon treat. “Any particular reason why?” I ask. “We really should get home and make dinner.”
Zoey gives me the look she gives me when she pretends to be exasperated. While I find it incredibly adorable, it also gives me a glimpse into what she’ll be like as a teenager.
“Come on, Mommy, it’ll be an adventure!” she begs. “Besides, we’ll get there eventually, right?”
I look at this brilliant little human—one that seems to already understand that life will take you to right where you need to be—and say, “Of course. Consider it done.”
* * *
I am 36 years old, and I am driving a different way home. In my rear view mirror, I no longer see my father following me into my future; instead, I see my daughter, the physical manifestation of what that future held. She is the result of a million little roads intersecting and colliding and meeting up.
Almost fifteen years ago, I headed down one of those roads. It was a road that changed the course of my life. It was a road that brought Zoey to me, and for that, I am obsessively grateful.
I catch a glimpse of Zoey’s silhouette and watch the curve of her neck extend sideways as she turns to look out the window. A small smile tugs at the corner of her lips, and her eyes try to take in everything new we are driving by.
Her joy is palpable: “Look at that house! It’s the color of sunshine! And that tree — it has pink flowers!”
“Where do we go next?” I ask.
“Turn left!” she calls out.
I point the car in that direction. “Done! Now what?”
“Right!” she giggles.
We do this all the way home, me at the wheel ready to happily oblige every last backseat request. Zoey and I don’t regret any of the wrong turns we’re taking that aren’t necessarily in the right direction. It takes us longer to get home, but it’s okay. For now, we are just enjoying the ride and all of the beautiful, new, exciting things we’re discovering along the way. Because we know we’ll get there eventually, and when we do, we are going to be just fine.
In fact, the more I think about it, we already are.
* * *
Talk to Us: What decision changed the course of your life the most? Do you regret any of the decisions you’re made? How can you change your perspective to see them in a more positive way?
Week 20 Suggested Viewing
Live a Life Without Regret | Deb Dewitz
Deb DeWitz is a social worker and family therapist who worked with children and families for many years. She then began teaching social work, passing on what she has learned from her clients and her own life, to the next generation of social workers. She firmly believes that we are each given “learning moments” throughout our lifetime. If we can step away from our view of the world to learn about someone else’s, or even to change our own, this new way of seeing the world will enrich us.
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At the The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.