There they are; the events that sit in your past. Written in stone, unchangeable, because you can’t go back. Between then and now the years have rolled in, evermore shaping your perspective as experiences are pushed further into the rearview mirror. You’ve revisited the scenes in your mind many times and thought that if given the chance, you’d go back and do some things differently.
You are wise and gentle with yourself, so of course you recognize you did the best that you could with the resources available and with things you knew at the time. But still, you are occasionally pricked with a thought: “If only I had a time machine.”
Then sometimes quite by surprise in the here and now, you’ll find yourself looking around at your circumstances and realizing they are a repeat of what happened before. The setting may be a bit different, and the players may have changed, but don’t be mistaken, this is life giving you a gift, fate sprinkling a little magic dust on you. Because while what’s happening is not a portal that can transport you back to relive old experiences, it’s the next best thing. This is your opportunity to consider different choices, given the wisdom you have now; your chance to show that in the school of life, you’ve been paying attention to the lessons.
Do-overs can be quite sneaky. Sometimes they tip-toe up from behind and tap you on the shoulder, catching you unawares. You see, before you’ve recognized them for what they are, your auto-pilot may have already kicked in, taking you down an old road with comfortable, but perhaps not desired, behaviors. If you’re smart enough to catch yourself, you’ll see these moments as your golden opportunity to make choices that are better than the ones you made before, thus showing off the new and improved version of you.
Do-overs come in sizes from small to large. In one such opportunity you may have the chance to give someone your most precious commodity: the gift of your time. For example, you may choose to let sitting and visiting be good enough, rather than giving in to the need to jump up and be busy again. When my daughter was young, one activity she treasured was watching a few select, favorite Disney shows on TV. I’ve often looked back and wondered, did I ever sit next to her and watch one of them in its entirety, or did I usually head for the kitchen to make sure that the dishes, or an equally inconsequential task, was done? My daughter is grown now, married and in her own home, but a do-over came to me recently in the form of a warm, crackling backyard fire on a cold, winter night. Seated next to me was my 12-year-old grandson who was content to sit and enjoy the fire for hours. After a while I felt the temptation to go in the house and get “busy,” but I was grateful and a little awe-struck when I recognized in that moment, that this was a do-over. I said to myself, “I’m staying right here.”
Do-overs may give you the chance, once again, to hear someone share their heartfelt feelings with you. This time, rather than giving advice or saying “I told you so,” you’ll offer them a quiet nod and listen with eyes that say nothing but, “I understand.”
Perhaps you will show kindness and patience to someone who has always been a convenient target for your shortness or annoyance, realizing how unfair and truly small of you it is to take advantage of their easygoing nature and for granted their presence in your life. Perhaps you will vow to never do that again.
Do-overs may come in the form of something big, like finding the courage to align your behaviors with your priorities. Being brave enough to stand up to an old bully. Giving help when it is needed, rather than walking away. Protecting a child. Being there for someone that you once abandoned. Deciding which people in your life truly mean the most, and choosing to give your best to them, rather than to those who mean the least. Using the chance to say, “You mean so much to me, I love you,” before it is too late.
It’s true; we cannot change the past. And come to think of it, would we really want to go back? No, probably not. There is so much beauty, opportunity and promise in the here and now. Today there are precious people in our lives who were not with us, then. Today we can focus on living well in the present and laying a hopeful path for our futures. Today we can show who we’ve become, and feel satisfied when life tells us this: “Very good, here’s a gold star for you. Now go to the head of the class.”
Cindy works as an employment development counselor and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.