Lately I have been struggling, just as I am sure many have living in the time of COVID, with anger, frustration, and wondering about past life choices now that a world-wide pandemic has separated me from family and friends, and caused job markets to wither and die just as I am finishing my PhD and needed to go on the job market.
I woke up this morning feeling intense regret over spending so much of my life working toward multiple graduate degrees that do not appear to be of any worth to anyone anymore.
The problem is: I don’t like regret. I know my years studying the humanities has undeniably changed, for the better, who I am as a person. My understanding of myself, my empathy, compassion, patience for others have come from constant self-reflection and reflection on the human condition, which is the underlying foundation of humanities studies.
So, to remind myself of the importance of letting go of these anxieties, I rewatched About Time, a movie about a young man who finds out the men in his family can travel back through their own life-time—never into the future, and only moments and places they remember, so very reasonable as far as time travelling plots go. Of course, as we all would, he tries to fix things in his life that go “wrong,” but there is always a butterfly effect and he must choose at a certain point to let go and live life.
His father tells him that his secret to happiness was to live every day twice: once to experience it in all of its stress and unexpected situations, then to live it again but noticing all the sweet things about life amongst the stress and pain. Obviously the message is that even without this power to relive a day, we can slow ourselves down to notice the small day-to-day joys in life.
What I love about this movie is that it always makes me think. This time it was to question: if I had this power, what points in my life would I go back and try to “fix”? And what could the butterfly effects be? Would it be worth losing parts of my life that were good and happiness just to fix the places I regret? And would it be worth bearing the burden of that control and those decisions for me and for others?
And, just as I had hoped, watching About Time was a good reminder of why living in the past is impossibly more painful than the pain life can throw at us. Life is painful, but maybe it would be less painful if we didn’t dwell on what might have been but only focus on what we can learn. If we could stop making things about life black and white, and actually believe nothing (within reason, obviously, like, still don’t murder, etc…) is inherently bad, unredeemable, or a failure, then maybe self-peace and happiness would be easier.
“No, I never said we could fix things. I specifically never said that. Life’s a mixed bag, no matter who you are, look at Jesus, he was the son of God for God’s sake. Look how that turned out.”