Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had turned down that job, gone on that date, taken that phone call or canceled that trip? If nothing else, this past year has given us A LOT of time to ponder our life choices. Without the busyness of life to distract us, we suddenly found ourselves looking around, wondering how on earth we got here. If you look back, you realize that a thousand decisions—some minor, others enormous—led you to this exact place.
This is something I struggle with all the time. Should I be doing more with my life? Should I be living bigger and bolder, making the most of every second I have on this planet? Or am I, in the words of one therapist, “Should-ing all over myself”? (My sister says I need to scale back on the self-help podcasts.) I just finished an intriguing new novel called The Midnight Library in which the main character Nora has decided that after years of regrets and wasted opportunities, the world is better off without her. But before she goes, she gets to explore those regrets and roads not taken in the Midnight Library, where she learns some surprising truths.
Would you want to take a journey like Nora’s and experience alternate versions of your life? While I’m fascinated by the premise, I doubt my mental health could handle it. Many years ago, I read a Dear Sugar column written by the wise and wonderful Cheryl Strayed. A 41-year-old man wrote in and described how he was in utter agony over whether to have a child with his partner. Strayed ended her thoughtful response with these words that I return to often: “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”