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Drift Would

by on June 26, 2014

Drift Would
by Marco M. Pardi

“Tomorrow, every Fault is to be amended; but that Tomorrow never comes.” Benjamin Franklin. (1706-1790) Poor Richard’s Almanack, July 1756

I’ve been meaning to get around to this. You know how it goes. So much to do. But I have thought about it, really have. And it’s only right to point out that there have been many times, well – a lot, when I realized that if I had done what I planned to do, when I planned to do it there would have been a really bad outcome. So, I can pride myself on not being rash, thinking things through – I had a list somewhere. Or maybe I was going to make one. No matter.

Probably since the emergence of the modern human mind people have fancied themselves as being intellectually superior to other animals. One commonly touted indicator has been the ability to sense Time. It is commonly believed that non-human animals live in an ongoing present. Most humans, however, imagine a linear flow of Time from the past to the present and into a broad and ill defined future. Some humans, aware of the implications in fields such as quantum mechanics and mysticism see this view of linear Time on the same intellectual level as walking from point A to point B and concluding there from the Earth is flat, or that the Sun actually rises and sets. Over the last six decades ethologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists have established that non-human Primates not only make tools, they make them in advance of their use; they make today what they will use tomorrow, “seeing” into a domain to which humans had laid exclusive claim. Furthermore, they have demonstrated Displacement, the ability to visualize and transmit a fiction. They can lie. But what if tomorrow never comes, or comes in a form unanticipated by even the most obsessive planners?

The ability to think in the subjunctive mood is at once an almost limitless opening of the mind and at the same time a potentially deceptive convenience wherein we may file things we’ve thought of but do not presently intend to do, do not see as currently necessary to do, or see ourselves currently unable to do. “If I won the lottery I would….”

Complicate this by qualifying some or all of these conditional activities with a felt “should do” and we have the makings of the kind of turmoil often and conveniently resolved by “I know I should get to it someday..”

The seeming universe of possibilities, then, is filtered through a Boolean progression we call conscience, a device which offers judgment on whether, for example, delay is prudence or procrastination. But whence conscience in its most fundamental form? Since the demise of the tabula rasa doctrine of human brain/mind development we have seen the see-saw battle of Nature vs. Nurture leaving us with no clear picture; an overwhelming number of studies leaves the reader aground, feeling as if the answer is just below him but unable to see it. “I would pick a side, but….”

Ultimate moral issues aside, we confront a conceptual universe in multitudes of decisions every day. A simple answer, popular in the drug subculture of the ’60’s was “drop out”. Were it so easy. Even inaction is an action; it is a decision to not act. One does not have to stretch to find examples of how inaction can have consequences more dire than considered action. Drawing again from the 60’s and ’70’s, we might recall the chant of war protesters, “If you’re not saying No, you’re saying Yes!” This was a simple piracy of the Nixon/Reagan/Falwell perversion called “The Silent Majority”

In short, then, the opening of our minds to a seemingly limitless universe of the possible (“anything’s possible”), with only a fraction of the actual, lulls us into the comfort that, whatever it is we would do there will always be time and circumstance for it. “I would spend more time with this blog, but the Fantasy Channel is doing re-runs of ‘Touched by an Uncle.'” “I would comment on this blog, but…………..”

Most of us have heard, and perhaps even articulated the “If I could do it over, I would have done it differently” mantra. I have on occasion voiced this to my daughter, and have greatly profited from her wisdom when she says, “You did what you did with the knowledge you had at the time.” It was surprising to me that I needed reminding; I had said as much to people who were either in their last weeks of life or were the significant others of such people. Looking back on those conversations I recall steering people away from the would fantasies and into the here and now realities. At any given moment we stand atop a tree of many branches; there actually is some wisdom in the saying, “Don’t go out on a limb.”

Recently Bonnie Ware, a former hospice nurse, wrote a book entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. She asked patients in their last 3 – 12 weeks what regrets they might have. It should be said that this is a controversial area of palliative care. Opinions are quite divided over whether one should ask, or should wait for the patient to volunteer such thoughts. Nonetheless, she tallied five common themes:
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the one others expected of me.
2. I wish that I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Prima facie, the list seems self evident. But of course there is more afoot than what simply rises to the mouth. The facile approach would pronounce these as failings, but the trite saying (here it comes) Hindsight is always 20/20 must be factored in. Looking back and formulating all the ways we would have done something differently is simply swinging the panoramic lens of the imaginary future 180 degrees and using it to reinvent the past. Fantasy. Yes, informed by information we did not have at the time, and still fantasy. The act of concluding that things would have been different is the act of grasping, out of a universe of unknowns at the time information, factors and choices which may very well not have existed at the time. And, it invites the negation of not only the realistic context at the time, but all the experiences and lessons learned since. How often, at 22, 42, or 62 have we had a silent flush of embarrassment at the vivid memory of something we said or did at 12? As I have said elsewhere, this is the application of later wisdom to an earlier act. Not so wise after all.

Before we rush to bare our souls to people who up until now have appreciated our clothes, before we assert ourselves out of a job, before we Google and contact someone who may be glad we thus far haven’t, let’s take care not to get lost in the woulds. Drifting through life with our imagination is fine for those who care not whom they meet or leave along the way, or where and when they finish.

“As soon as I had stepped out of my mother’s womb onto dry land, I realized that I had made a mistake – that I should not have come, but the trouble with children is that they are not returnable.” Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant. 1966

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4 Comments
  1. While I could be wrong, I’m going to go ahead and assume that I was not one of those unwanted “googles” (LOL). Although I doubt you gave any thought to me during our absence from each other’s lives; then and now, we are the same.

    If my dogs are any example, non-human animals do have a sense of time. Because my husband follows a strict morning routine, Shadow becomes visibly upset when that routine is broken. On the day when he wears his bowling shirt (a sure indication he will be gone for the morning), she uses obvious delaying tactics meant to keep him from going. It’s as if she thinks that, by stretching out the time necessary for the routine to be followed, she can keep him from leaving.

    I try always to avoid the woulds and shoulds of life; dealing with reality as it is presented to me. Of course, like most people, there have been a few things I wish I had done differently, but since every choice made dictates the next set of possibilities, how much good would I have missed? Even the not-so-good has within it lessons we may need later. Your daughter is very wise: We do the best we can with the knowledge and abilities we have at the time.

    Daydreams, on the other hand, are great entertainment, so long as we recognize that this is all they will be without some course of action. I dreamed of walking the Camino almost a decade ago; how different would my life have been if I had been able to do it then? Would I be writing these words now? Doubtful. It’s the one bit of knowledge that makes me glad I didn’t go…yet!

  2. Thank you, Rose. Correct: You were not one of those unwanted googles. In fact, that you did do so has brought great value to my life and to the lives of others who now benefit from “knowing” you.

    As you know, I’ve fought for decades to counter and overcome the traditional and common view humans have toward non-humans. Too often it seems like just preaching to the choir.

    I’m sure lots of walks await you. Life is a walk, and few are as able as you to take in and appreciate their surroundings along the way.

  3. Brilliant ! can see in my mind`s eye a collection of all your blog posts made into a book, titled …`THE BLOG ` !! you know, `THE` as in `The Briefcase` !
    Living in the Present , in the Now, `would` (;-)) be a life without woulds. How easy does it sound and at the same time how out-of-reach can that be…!
    P.S.: by the way… feeling so much better about my procrastination, I shall call it prudence now ! 🙂

  4. Thank you, FOAL. Your comment brightens me up. Perhaps my collection could be titled Fog Blog. I (would) have to think about that…..sometime….maybe.

    If there is such as thing as courageous prudence, you certainly are the best example. Marco

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