I’ve missed a lot of things in my life: Elvis, a ballgame at the old Yankee Stadium, Heather McTavish (not her real name) and probably the Pyramids — if they don’t quit screwing around in North Africa. These things are in no particular order and … oh, well! you win some, you lose some. Life is, at best, a coin toss, and 50% or better is success. After all, I’ve done a few other things that are going to surprise the hell out of the student volunteers when life finally lands me in the nursing home. They’ll probably think I’m lying.
Personally, I don’t regret the things I haven’t done. Chasing retroactive rainbows is not my style. However, if Heather showed up tomorrow, I’d probably give it a shot, and who wouldn’t want to see a resurrected Elvis? My point is, on the expressway of life, you might miss an off ramp every once in awhile, but so what? There’s always a different one down the road.
However, there are certain things that I have actively pursued that simply haven’t worked out. I used to think I needed to try harder or prioritize or some other such nonsense, but I learned early on that this was not the case. For example, when I was a kid, there was a seawall which was the double-dog-dare-you macho challenge of my teenage years. The object was to walk a concrete wall that separated the Pacific Ocean from a milder tidal pool – there and back again. At high tide, the water swept back and forth over the top of the wall; at low tide, there was a 12 foot drop to the rocks below — and in between, the ocean battered and sprayed itself relentlessly across the concrete. However, even though I’m scared of heights, bone-crunching surf and a number of other things that cause bodily injury, I desperately wanted to “walk the wall,” as we used to say. I never did. At the time, every time I went past the wall or joined the crowd to watch somebody else try to break their neck, my young man self esteem took a kicking. This was especially true one after-school afternoon when good old what’s-her-name (I think Carolyn?) did it. At fourteen, skulking is not the better part of valour.
Then an odd thing happened. Semesters changed, somebody discovered that Paul McCartney had died; somebody else discovered Let It Bleed and everybody forgot about “walking the wall.” I realized then that the gods had been protecting me from myself. If I had put one pinky toe on that wall, I’d have crashed head first into Valhalla, and any macho points I might have gained would have been wasted at the funeral.
So what have we learned, boys and girls?
Sometimes in life, we miss things, but rather than waste a bunch of time on regret, the best thing to do is keep on moving. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or any of that other hocus-pocus, but I’m old enough to realize that if you’re instincts tell you no, don’t tempt the gods or you’re going to have to live with the consequences.
So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m never going to own the motorcycle that poverty denied me when I was young. One hint of two-wheeled transportation and there wouldn’t be enough left of me to be an organ donor. Nor am I ever going to play football again. I still have 202 never broken bones and I’d like to take that stat to the grave. And the gods don’t merely punish you with physical harm, either. I’ve tried a million times to read Moby Dick, but since it never worked out, now, I plan to just keep it that way. In fact, for years, I tried to watch a complete production of Othello: television, movies, live theatre, even puppets (if I could have got hold of some) but, strangely, it has never worked out. I believe the gods are trying to tell me something. So for the last few decades and from here on in, Iago, Desdemona and the mighty Moor – you’re on your own.