I was at lunch with a friend a few weeks ago, at a café in Concord Center, when the usual mid-life questions came up. If I weren’t doing what I’m doing, what else would I have done or become? Unfortunately, this question often spurs a complete rewind of time. The question becomes: “If I had it to do all over again, what would I have done differently?” This then turns into an alternate life imagined, one that cannot be realized now, because so many other dominoes would have had to have fallen to put me in this different place, pursuing a completely different calling, on a different path, even perhaps with a different person. Our friend and poet, Robert Frost got it only half right. There’s not just one road not taken, there are a thousand countless roads not taken, not lived, not rendered, not realized.
This of course creates insurmountable barriers to actually doing any of these things. That ship has sailed, as they say. My wish is that people could imagine a different answer to that question, by in fact asking a slightly different question, one that doesn’t trigger a complete rewind. If you want a different answer, ask a different question. Maybe even a dangerous question. It sounds a little cheesy, I think I first heard it on a talk show, and it turns out there is even a book by this same title, but I threw it out on the table: “What would you do if you had no fear?”
My friend announced that if she had no fear, she would take the cookies off the table next to us, but since we’re civilized, she would ask the diners at the table next to us if she could have one of their cookies. And she did! And they said, “Sure,” and so my friend had a cookie, and they even offered me a cookie, too, which I accepted, because it just seemed wrong not to. While funny, there is an essential truth buried in this story. Sometimes we simply need to ask for what we want or need. We have to take the lid off our expectations. Ask the crazy question. The dangerous question. Take a chance. Put yourself out there. And hopefully you’re allowed back in at the café. And even if you’re not, don’t be afraid of being on the outside looking in. Too often, we box ourselves in, afraid to reach out beyond our safe and known existences. Afraid to fail. Afraid to feel. When the greater risk is not even trying.
Sometimes we need a nudge, a kick, a push, something that slaps us across the face and wakes us up to the fact that life is flying by, and the only failure is the chance not taken. Maybe just asking the question is enough. Sometimes it’s a life event that leaves you raw, with your eyes wide open suddenly to the life that you’ve become.
What does it take?
How much does it take to jar you from your slumber? How deep in misery must one slide before losing sight of a way out; so deep in the mire, one cannot even begin to climb and find their way out. The one thing I learned from playing rugby, that I use every single day, is the ability to fall, and get back up again, over and over again.
An Oscar Wilde quote comes to mind: “We are all lying in the gutter; some of us are gazing at the stars.” Wherever you are, can you still direct your gaze to what may be, what might still be possible for you? Can you see it? Can you shift your focus, imagine doing something different, and then take that first tiny step towards it?
That’s what my cookie-craving lunch friend did. She had been talking about wanting to become more physically active, and not just planting herself on the couch when she got home from work. So, when she went home that night, she went for a walk instead, and was being a good citizen and picking up trash along the side of the road when she came across a cardboard box, which turned out to be occupied by a bunny rabbit, trying to chew its way out. It had clearly been abandoned and left for the coyotes, so she rescued it and brought it home, and she now has a pet rabbit. But, if she hadn’t wanted a change, and hadn’t gone for a walk, she would never have happened upon the bunny. You really never know what is around that next corner – or what you might find in a cardboard box along the roadside. I can’t guarantee that everyone will find a bunny in a box, but if you can figure out something you can do right now, right here, today, to move your life in a better direction, you won’t regret it. It may not happen in leaps and bounds, but at least it will be happening. Starting is the hardest part.
When I showed this to my lunch friend later, she replied: “To tie the whole thing up in a neat bow, in one Native American tradition, a rabbit is associated with being so fearful that you draw what you fear to yourself. In another tradition, a rabbit represents the ability to make a spiritual leap to a higher level of understanding. Your blog of course deals with fear and overcoming it so you reach that higher level. Very cool!”
This was written in June 2014, as I was just starting to write again. My anthem for the summer was “It’s Time,” by Imagine Dragons. It is indeed time to begin.
© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.