Monday, 31 January 2011

You can never go back.

I was watching Family Man while I was on the treadmill over the weekend. You know the movie - even if you haven't seen it. Guy (or gal)  gets a chance to do something over and get different results and in the process has some great epiphany and the world becomes a better place because of it. Think of It's a Wonderful Life, or Sliding DoorsFreaky Friday,  or even A Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge).

So I was trying to keep running in Zone 2 while contemplating what is it about life that makes some people wish to go back to an unchosen path and select that one instead of the one they are now on.

I remember an assignment in grade school that required writing an essay about "what I would do differently if I had six months to live". I didn't do very well on that assignment because the teacher didn't believe me when I wrote that I was doing what I want to be doing right now. How could anyone be happy with the here and now? Really! That was her reasoning. I don't think she was very happy with her life choices.

I've never quite bought into that philosophy of "wishing for what could have been". Of course, I have done a number of things that, in hindsight, I probably should not have done. And those things are etched in my memory. They remind me. They define me. They direct my actions. Had I never done them, I would not be who I am now.

Of course there are also many things that, in hindsight, I probably could have done differently. I could have kept swimming and running in my tweens and might have tried competing. I could have not quit competitive cycling in my teens when, on the first time out, my used Peugeot Record's chain broke on the first climb.

I do think what if, now and again, but only as a mental exercise. More to remember and learn from  the elaborate tapestry of my past, than to try to capture that elusive unicorn that was never mine to ride.

I've often struggled with the concept of goals. On one hand, I know that goals can provide direction and motivation to strive and achieve things that can make life more pleasant and rich or interesting. It is these same goals that lead so many to the tri life. Training for a triathlon to lose weight, to prove something, to keep up with friends, to check off an item on the bucket list...

Goals and ambition are inexorably tied, but somehow so too is nostalgia, it seems - the nostalgia for achieving something that could have been achieved if only some different path was taken many moons ago. 

I find that line of thinking somewhat paradoxical. Things would be different if, some time in the past, things were different. Okay, maybe not paradoxical...perhaps somewhat tautological.

My goals are far less grandiose and more rooted in a compelling curiosity for what is next. I wonder what running a block without stopping would feel like? What if I wore goggles when I tried to swim? What if I did register for Ironman? What if I did most of my training before the rest of the family woke up? What if I made my own sandwich and swam over lunch, rather than spending money at restaurants?

So I'm running on the treadmill. Looking at Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni. I can't help but make some comparisons with my life choices, my current situation and the family with which I've been blessed.

With sweat dripping, I increase my pace on the treadmill -- partly to get a better workout -- and partly to travel, if not only metaphorically, further along the road already chosen.

When the workout was done, I could step off the treadmill and get on my bike - or do something else. Similarly I could change the channel and watch Survivorman or any other show. I don't have to rewind anything because I am the product of everything that I have failed at and achieved.

Moving forward continues to define me, even if sometimes, moving forward means standing still - or dancing on a treadmill.


  1. Totally agree. I don't think there is a "could have been." I think there's only a "there is." My son's taekwondo master used to tell him and make him repeat, "wherever you are, be there!". The present is the place to be. Trail running forces me to be in the present, which is one of the reasons I love it so much (because the present is such a difficult place to stay : ) Happy Monday!

  2. You must be simply content with your life. I believe the 'could have been' people are not, but feel they have the potential to be someone better and sometimes lament over bad decisions or apparently unfair cards life dealt them.
    I agree you can never go back, but what if..., with every birth our memory is wiped out and only strong subconscious desires remain to drive us (hopefully not crazy...).

  3. It is interesting how discussions about living lives in the present, usually hint at philosophies and traditions of the eastern world (at least the eastern world that doesn't kill itself making plastic knock-off or electronic doodads for the western world.


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