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"If Only I Had. . ."




I was reading an article about Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who broke every record on the books. In the New Yorker piece from February 10, 2014, Nyad, now 70, talked about being focused on the past. Her mind was "monopolized by regret." She thought about how she might have done things differently--whether with a long relationship or a long-distance swim. Nyad chewed over the "injustices she'd suffered and how she wished she'd fought back."


There's that French expression 'If only the young knew, and the elderly could still do.' So many athletes I've interviewed say, 'Oh, if only I could have my mind of this age and be back on the world stage . . ."

Well, most of us have not been nor will ever be on the world stage. But like Nyad, we've struggled with regret, had times when we felt unfairly treated and wished we could have fought back.


I bet you can whip up a list of your "if onlies." I know I can. If only I had told a therapist friend that she'd better go back to graduate school after she labeled my relationship with my adult son as unhealthy because we talked on the phone daily. If only I'd been able to talk about the hurt my non-Jewish friends caused when they called me the "Palestine Princess" or the "Bagel Bopper." If only, as a younger woman, I hadn't put so much focus on being liked by others, instead of first liking myself. If only I'd listened to my gut more than to my head. I wouldn't have married my first husband or become a teacher instead of a writer or . . .


True, some of my (and I assume some of your) "if onlies" are no more than a passing sigh. Oh, well. It is what it is. Nothing I can do and no interest in doing. But I'd wager that there are those regrets and injustices that can still get your heart rate up as if you've just climbed the 354 steps to the top of the Empire State Building.


I'm going to take a playbook from Gail Collins, my favorite opinion writer for The New York Times. She is a master at setting the stage and then asking her readers to take a multiple-choice "test."


The setup for this test: As we age, we can handle the "if onlies" by:

A) Constructing a voodoo doll for any and every person who has ever mistreated you and casting spells that will forever shut them up

B) Keeping a supply of freshly-sharpened pins and needles to use if the spells aren't working

C) Forcing anyone who doesn't agree with your point of view to listen to all gazillion hours of the Impeachment hearings.

D) Time-traveling back to the moment of your birth and turning all those "if onlies" into "no regrets."
















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