Two friends and I have been reading and discussing The Inner Work of Aging by Connie Zweig. We recently completed a chapter that invited the exercise of a life review, in which one considers all that one has done, a kind of summing up of the journey and reflection on what it has meant. Whenever I take such a backward look at my life course, I quickly become awash in regret at all that got left out as I made my way through the years. I see dreams unfulfilled, choices I wish I had made differently, the roads not taken while I was traveling other roads. My regrets tempt me to conclude that life has not been what I wanted, that I need some sort of do-over in order to have the life I once envisioned. And of course a do-over in living is not available, so that I am left holding those regrets, longing to lay them down, unable to lay them down if I am being honest about my life journey.
Looking back over the years of living, the challenge becomes learning to see the course of life as being about more than what one has done and where one has gone, the accomplishments that have been accumulated over time. Approaching a life review in this manner means that all one never did, despite having once held dreams of work and trips and experiences and relationships which did not come to reality, becomes just—nothing. Regrets are set aside, and one has to come to terms with the life actually lived rather than pining uselessly for what never was.
But what if we decided, in some sort of life review, to include all we once dreamed of doing, which is recommended by Zweig? What if the unlived elements of our lives are counted as meaningful, alongside the lived elements? Because what I dreamed of doing, the person I imagined becoming: that, too, is part of my life journey. The fact that those dreams were not brought to fruition does not discount them as meaningless. The places I intended to go but never did, the doors I considered opening but never did, the person I dreamed of being but did not become, the work I imagined doing but never got around to doing: all that is part of my life, all that contributed to who I became, all that is worth honoring and including in the outline of a life journey. At the end of life, looking back on what was lived and what was not lived, may we hold the entirety of it as sacred. All of it, every moment of it, mattered.