A friend of mine has been musing on regret recently, thinking about how her life might have been, might still be different. It’s hard to know how to respond because we all have our regrets. It’s the extent of the regrets that differ. Some are trapped entirely in a world of “might have beens.” Others fight daily to be happy with where and who they are. I know there have been times, long times even, when I have wallowed in misery. Other strange creatures seem, at least to outsiders, to be naturally gifted with contentment.
It’s strange how one can be contented and yet still wonder how things might be different. And contentment is not a permanent state. The children who bring only delight with their tousled red-cheeked morning hugs and smiles that light up their faces can make you want to run a thousand miles in the evening. Much loved parents can drive you insane. Writing can be a joy or a burden. Would it be trite to say that it’s part of being human?
Walking this morning in the cool bright light of early morning, a sharp breeze raised goosebumps on my arms while in front of me the sun was reflected in dozens of glinting mirrors of water. The grass rustled with wind snakes and small birds swooped out of the grass almost at my feet. The combination of cool breeze, green hills, the early haze promising later warmth and the light combined in a feeling of joy. I was happy to be alive and I was almost entirely content.
Mentally I was listing what made me happy and what didn’t. If someone asked me whether I was content with my life, I would say “yes.” Still, there are pangs when I read of the successes of my academic cohort. I don’t begrudge them that new job, that promotion, that most recent journal article, that write-up, but I sometimes just miss being someone – having a position, a name on my door, somewhere to go. Emails arrive from Hong Kong, New York, Portland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, anywhere else and I wonder briefly about having planted myself so strongly in rural (okay – peri-urban) Queensland. Nostalgia sometimes flourishes for being able to walk out the door and be surrounded by the urgencies of urban life rather than having to make a plan, carve out the time and go there.
Then I wondered if we had to be something other than content to achieve things? Would I write if I were 100% content to be just a wife and mother? Would I volunteer if I thought where I lived was perfect? Would I take on a huge renovation challenge if I were satisfied to live in a two bedroom cottage? It all circles back to being human and our urge to change things and do things differently and better. For me, as a historian and a person, the challenge is how to acknowledge that the future rests on our past and to make that constructive.