What did you dream your life would be like? Do you still have dreams and expectations about how your life will be in the future? It seems there's been so much written about "bucket lists," things people always wanted to do but never got around to and so they are making an extra effort to do it now before it's too late. There's been a movie by that title and there's a country-western song about it too. I certainly have a list. Mostly it involves places I'd like to see before I die. My husband bought me a book called, A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. I immediately started going through it to see where I had not been. He was looking at it too but he was noting all the places we'd already been, two very different perspectives.
According to my Ennegram type, type 7, I am always looking for the next experience, the next adventure. My "type" is not easily content. I am always on the lookout for what I might have missed. In some ways it makes life exciting but in other ways it can prevent me from relishing the present, always looking forward. For me, dreaming and planning for the future lead me to feeling optimistic. I like believing there will be a future to plan for. But, I believe it's also important to let go of things we imagined might have been.
I once mentioned to a woman that as a young woman, I had dreamed of living and working in Manhattan. She told me it was never too late to pursue a dream. I believe that but I think sometimes it's better to let go of some dreams. I expected to graduate from college and head off to NYC. I never dreamed of being on Broadway, I wanted to be on Wall Street. But, my life took me in another direction. No, I made decisions which led me to suburbia and even further out into rural America. I've lived in several states but I've never lived in "the city." Sometimes, I found myself fantasizing about the life I had dreamed about. It was very different from the life I had. Boy, was I good at imagining all the wonderful experiences and adventures I would have had.
I attended a retreat once with a woman who had six children. She also had a sister who had become a cloistered nun. She told us she was much younger than her sister and was very confused and saddened by her sister's choice. She said she could only go visit her once a year and it was so quiet and seemed so lonely. Then, she shared that after being married for twenty years and raising six children, she'd had many moments when she wished she'd joined the convent. I know she was teasing us but there was also an element of truth in her statement.
The story in the cartoon UP, revolves around a married couple who had a dream about moving to an exotic country and living above the waterfalls. Every year they saved for their travel and every year something came along that derailed their adventure. When the wife dies, the man who is now quite elderly and very depressed decides it's finally time to give it a go. He attaches hundreds of balloons to the top of his house and he floats away to find the waterfalls. Once again, he's derailed but this time he has a new friend, a young boy who has hidden away in his house, who helps him see the world differently. In looking over his wife's "dream journal" he realizes she had added pictures to the album that had nothing to do with their ultimate goal of moving to the exotic location, she's added pictures of their life together. She's added pictures of the adventure they'd had, pictures of their life's journey.
There's a study that shows people age better when they can let go of regret. Carol Klein addressed this issue in her book "Overcoming Regret." What happens when we hang onto regret is that we idealize a situation that may have turned out completely different from our imagination. Once we realize that we don't have a clue how something would have turned out, perhaps if we could even imagine how horrible it might have been rather than some fantasy we've been clinging to, maybe then we can let go of that regret and fully appreciate the life we have.
The title of Queen Noor's book is, A Leap of Faith, Memories of an Unexpected Life. I wondered when I saw that title how many people have lived an expected life. I took a small survey and asked several friends if they'd lived an "expected life." I only had one person say "yes." What is your answer? I can tell you right now, I never dreamed of the life I've lived and am now living. Never, never did I imagine myself living in North Carolina surrounded by my family. I never thought I'd travel to China or Ecuador or some of the other amazing places I've been. My life has been a series of adventures and mysteries and it's been great! Once I was able to let go of the "what might have been", like the man in UP, I was able to appreciate what has been.
Perhaps the secret is not let go of our dreams, even our "bucket lists" but to let go of expecting life to be exactly as we imagined and to embrace it as it is, to relish all we have experienced, all we have learned. Perhaps the secret is to treasure whatever life has afforded us, the expected and the unexpected.