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Living An Unexpected Life

Affirmation:
I let go of regret.

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.