As human beings we have a tendency to look back at our pasts and contemplate what could have or should have been different. Maybe it would have changed the course of our life in one way or another. Perhaps if that one defining moment hadn’t taken place, or it would have happened when we were more prepared, we could have dealt with it better. Maybe it was a family secret. A divorce. A messy split. A traumatic event that we’re still not over today. A realization that hurt us deeply. Whatever the case, we wonder. What if.
What if things would have been different. Would it have really made a difference?
All the while we are spending our precious time contemplating and thinking about the possibilities, not realizing that the impact of our own decisions now will also make us wonder years ahead. I say this not as someone who has overcome this human predicament, but as someone who often finds himself wondering too. You see, it’s easy to look at what we already know and make judgements about what we or somebody else might have been able to do differently. It’s not so easy to look at ourselves in the now and to acknowledge the actions we one day might come to regret.
Here’s where I’m coming from with this.
A few days ago I was feeling a little blue. Not for any particular reason, just feeling kind of defeated and tired. To overcome this emotion I decided to take myself for a walk. I ended up at a state park nearby doing something I thought I had never done before, walking a trail in the middle of nowhere. There I was, a little freaked out about every little noise around me (even my own steps against the leaves on the ground), and more than a little concerned that I might not be following the right trail back to my car. Had I taken a wrong turn my fear was ending up on a nine mile trail in the middle of the darkness of the woods without even so much as a flashlight, as opposed to the one and a half mile trail I was looking at on my map. It was an impulsive last minute decision to make this trip and all I had on me was a bottle of water and my cell phone that kept losing signal from one moment to the next.
The sign at the entrance of the trail didn’t help at all with my confidence either. It read: Make sure you tell someone where you are.
I had decided I didn’t want to do that.
Luckily for me there were other people here and there on the same trail so I figured if a snake bit me or a crocodile got a hold of me eventually somebody would find me. I know, I was being a little melodramatic that evening. The point is as I was walking through the trail I realized my whole childhood was actually spent walking trails. They weren’t in the middle of a state park, and they weren’t used for recreational purposes on a set schedule. They were the dirt roads my family and I walked to and from one country road to another in the Rio Grande Valley. We used them for fetching water and picking berries when they were in season. I just didn’t know hiking was the technical term for what we were doing.
I don’t know, something about that moment hit me.
How could I have spent such a big part of my childhood doing this and not remember? I think the answer to that question is pretty simple. There were so many other things going on in my childhood, both in the country and later on in the city when we moved, that this part of my memory is one I had buried pretty deep. Oddly enough it’s also a part of my life that I remember now as being very peaceful and relaxing. In a way I guess I wonder if my desire to go back to the wilderness was a way of being called back to something I once enjoyed so much. Maybe it was nature beckoning me back to the old country roads where I had been raised.
Truth is, that just might be a stretch. Or as I might put it in conversation, la mente compone las cosas como quiere.
What it did make me appreciate are all the happy memories I shared with my family on those trails. It did something else too. It has given me a reason to want to create more of those happy memories for those around me now.
If it takes them a lifetime to remember them too, that’s okay. At least I know they have them.