“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
I opened the door to my apartment building and was greeted by a beautiful day. The morning sun peeking through the leaves, a gentle breeze washing over my skin. I had spent the morning doing what I enjoy. Meditating, writing, exercising. I felt at ease, I felt as though anything was possible. I was present, there was no past or future. Just this moment.
I turned the corner on seventh and crossed the street to follow the shade. In front of me on the sidewalk was sparrow. Just sitting there. Cute as could be. I said hello to her. She immediately reacted with fear and began in vain to get away from me. Her wings flapping furiously against the ground. A valiant effort against what I realized was a broken wing.
A death sentence.
I must have appeared as a predator bearing down for the kill. Taking advantage of Darwin’s laws of survival. Her broken wing trying so valiantly but going nowhere. Moving in circles, its small heart beating faster with every revolution. Her fear and helplessness mirroring my own. Through its desperate attempts she ended up in a pile of sand and garbage. A small cloud of dust emerging from her struggle.
She didn’t understand what was happening to her and the futility of her efforts. But she did not give up.
My heart broke. I wanted so badly to pick her up, to heal her. To comfort her. To make the pain and the fear go away. I spoke to her. I tried calming her. She didn’t understand. I didn’t understand.
With every attempt to get closer I drove her away and caused fear to grow. She hopped into the street, oncoming traffic not seeing or not caring about her. I used her fear to my advantage and guided her back to the curb, under a car. This poor little creature didn’t know my intentions. It didn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth. I was trying to calm her, to soothe her and let her know everything was going to be alright. Maybe I was trying to soothe myself.
I ended up leaving her. My helplessness consuming me. The need to be on time for work a perfect excuse. Nature will take its course and she will die.
This scene was played out in front of Greenwood cemetery, a haunting backdrop reinforcing the inevitability of death. The impermanence of life.
I saw in this bird myself. I saw the connection of all living creatures. A broken animal just trying to fly. It being held to the ground by a broken bone, I being held to the ground by fear and self-doubt. Both of us trying to fly. Both of us trying to survive.
I woke up today thinking of her. My eyes opened to the shadow of regret. I should have done more. I should have tried harder to save this creature. This creature that is made up of the same pieces of the stars and universe that I am.
But I didn’t.
The past became present and I was flooded with regrets of old. Should haves. I should have loved myself more, I should have known that I was enough. I should have known that spending money on things was nothing more than a short-lived high. That there would never, could never be enough. I was pouring all my possessions into a bottomless glass. With every purchase I was locking myself into my own prison. I did not own my things, they owned me.
I should have….
The birth of life was the birth of death. One does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. Death gives purpose to life. To live a life of “I did” instead of “I should have…”.
With death comes regret. At the end of our life what will we do? Look back at all that we experienced and smile? Or look back at all that we missed? I do not want my last breath to be one of regret.
The power to live whatever life I want is within my grasp. There is not one external thing that can prevent me from achieving anything I want. Not my past, not my criminal record. Not a damn thing.
Notice I said externally. My one barrier, and it is one that we all share, is myself. I am the roadblock. My fears, my self-doubt, the stories I make up in my head.
I know how, or I will figure out how to navigate any external roadblock I experience. But when it comes to myself, that is another story.
And I suppose that is part of the journey. A frustrating part, but an integral part. How badly do I want the life I want? What comforts am I willing to give up in the short-term to experience true unadulterated joy in the future?
What am I willing to do and what needs to be done to ensure I do not utter these words as life leaves my body?