Nostalgia and “What Might Have Been”

I am happy to be home, even when it’s only for a couple of days. Home is where we are when we feel most ourselves. It is, I think, a deep connection to a place, to people and one’s familiar surroundings. Growing up in the military meant we moved a lot and I think I associated home more with our furniture and my family than a particular place or even my friends—people who would, after all, be left behind next time we moved.

This current respite from my schedule is relaxed and enjoyable as Darlene and I reconnect after being apart most of the summer. But it is also showing me how easy it is to lose one’s connection to home and those we love in the pace and pressure of working and travel. It is an old and common story that characterizes most of my career—clients and opportunities trump ‘less productive’ pursuits. Pleasure is just a ‘break’ from the ‘real world’ and I seem to always allow myself to be seduced by the ‘new challenges’, the need to be ‘acknowledged’ for adding value in whatever ways I can and, of course, the ‘pay day’ that validates my ‘worth’ as player in the ‘game of life’.  

This would all be a cliché except for the fact that it is my life and the only one I have this time around. I have no regrets really and, on balance, I prefer it to what I imagine my life would be if I never traveled, worked for one company my entire career, and lived in an “Ozzie and Harriet” bubble of suburban bliss. However, the fact that I reflect on the past in this manner suggests I am indulging in a pastime of playing “What might have been?” I am distinguishing this in the context of this blog, because I don’t think I had this particular line of thinking earlier in my life—except in the context of a particular event or circumstance (such as drinking too much, losing an important game or making a stupid investment). Until I was around 60 years old or so, I spent little or no time speculating on ‘what if’ scenarios (like what if I had gone to another University, married another woman, or stayed home more with my children, etc.). I don’t try to think about such things now. I just observe that these nostalgic reveries appear in my thinking more frequently. I should add there are no particular feelings or emotions associated with these retrospective scenarios—no sadness, no regret, no blaming myself or feeling bad—just an inquiry into what my life might have been had I made different choices.

I have no idea if this is a general pattern (like the “Fork in the Road” conversation that grabs many people as we age or if it’s something just peculiar to me. Darlene, for example, just told me that she doesn’t look back at all because she doesn’t remember most of it. Whatever the case, I think there is a tendency to drift into ‘looking back’ as we grow older, probably just as a consequence of there being so much more to look back on. I will continue with this inquiry and let you know as time passes if the conversations take on a different form. For now, they are pleasant reflections on a life that is already longer than I thought it would be and has been more satisfying than I could have hoped for. Moreover, it is filled with profound gratitude and continues to unfold daily to reveal more and more of the richness and tapestry of life and the always amazing and wondrous possibilities of being alive.