Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

If Only

on August 12, 2014

Field of Flowers

I think it’s perfectly normal to occasionally spend time thinking about what your life would have been like if you had made different choices. Most of us do it at one point or another. I admit to wondering where I would be now if I hadn’t made certain career decisions based on my head and not my heart, if I hadn’t given that ultimatum to the man I loved all those years ago who wasn’t ready to commit when I was, or if I hadn’t got so caught up in the politics at my last place of employment that I was burned in the fallout. I only do this when I’m going through a rough patch. Questioning my life’s trajectory becomes part of reconciling myself to whatever is going on because when I play this game, I invariably realize that my life is pretty good and I have nothing of any consequence to complain about. So for me, the “if only” exercise is ultimately a positive one. But that’s not true for a lot of people.

I know people for whom the “if only” game is one of never-ending self-flagellation and despair. They constantly obsess about the “mistakes” they’ve made in life – romantically, professionally, or with their families. They find these moments in their past that they can point to and say “My life would have been so much better if only I had ___________ (whatever, you fill in the blank).” I am so sad when I meet someone who thinks this way, because there is very little anyone can do to change their minds. Especially if the imagined moment of truth passed many years prior; reliving those missed opportunities or bad decisions or episodes of humiliation over and over gain wears grooves in someone’s mind and heart, until the trenches are so deep they can’t see over them anymore.

There is also the “if only” that comes when someone else makes a self-destructive choice and you think that if you had only seen the signs or called that night or had paid more attention to them when you met for lunch last week, that whatever it was they did (leave their family, overdose on drugs, or commit suicide) could have been prevented. YOU could have stopped them. If only you had known what they were going to do.

I imagine that Robin Williams’ family and friends are suffering through their own versions of “if only” right now. I’ve never lost someone so close to me to suicide, so I can only pretend to understand the hell they’re in. There’s so much flying around about Robin’s death, and the need to pay attention to people who are depressed and to get them the help they need. Yes, absolutely, we should be much, much more aware of the mental health challenges faced by so many people, and we should, as a society, be open and accepting of those of us whose lives are a constant battle against overwhelming despair.

But we have to acknowledge that sometimes you can’t help a person in the depths of emotional torment no matter what you do. The love of his family didn’t keep Philip Seymore Hoffman from sticking a needle in his arm over and over again. Success, fame and universal adoration didn’t keep Robin Williams from deciding that there was no way out for him, that taking his life was the only response to the demons that had plagued him his whole life. By all accounts he was loved by his family and cherished by his friends. He was kind and generous, and he appreciated what he had, but for whatever reason, for him, it wasn’t enough. He gave so many people so much joy; I guess he didn’t keep any for himself.

As a final thought, I chose the photo that accompanies this post because it reminds me of the movie “What Dreams May Come”, when Robin Williams goes to heaven. If you’re not familiar with the origin of the title, it’s from the famous speech in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. In this scene, Hamlet is contemplating suicide. I guess Robin decided he preferred to make his own quietus. I hope he is at peace now.

To be, or not to be, that is the question—

Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.

 

*******
photo credit: Rusty Russ via photopin cc

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