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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My Habit of Observing Adults

“If I had only …” : I Disliked this Adult Lament. 

"If I had only ...," I know that either I heard this phrase and its ilk a lot when I was little or I heard it a few times and could not get it out of my mind. And I mean "little." My memory is of me sitting on the floor looking up to hear one adult visitor after another say it. 
It came mainly from visitors, though I probably heard my father say it a few times. My mother? I don't think so. I heard visiting adults make statements like: 
"If I had only bought that 100 acres across the road from … I'd be a rich man now. 
"If I had taken that job when I had the chance I'd be sitting pretty today." 
“If I had listened to him I wouldn't be in this pickle." 
It was always about something they should have done when they were younger because it would have made them richer, or happier, or famous, or whatever. 
Granted, the people who came into my house and made these statements were people who earned their meager livings from the sweat of their brow. They had reason to dream about what could have made life easier. However, I did not know much about that. What I did know is that I had to grow up, and I did not like the idea of growing up regretting the decisions I made along the way. 
Was it fear? I don’t know. I just know that the “if-I-had-only” statements bothered me enough to make a permanent impression. They bothered me enough that at some point when I was still a little kid, I silently vowed I would live so that I would not ever have to say, "if I only had ... ."
Even then I knew I could not control everything that would turn my decisions good or bad. I could not ensure that things would always work out. I could try to make good decisions, but when I made them I had to be willing to accept their consequences. I don't know how to write this in a way that does not sound pretentious--that I was grown up beyond my few years. I was not. I was just a kid who like most little kids could be fascinated by what towering adults would say. Yet, when it came to if-I-only-had statements, I knew I did not want to become the old me who would make kids uncomfortable with such talk. 
I believe I have done pretty well at keeping my vow. More important to me now--more fascinating to me now--is how I cannot forget this vow 
when I have to make a decision 
or find myself where Robert Frost's "two roads" diverge.
perhaps too often, 
I tell my if-I-had-only story 
to others faced with with a difficult decision, 
or with seemingly minor decision that could alter life's path, 
or with a dream that looms hauntingly within reach.
I know I tell this story because I must tell it, not because they must hear it.

I Psychoanalyzed Old Ladies on My Way to the Communion Rail

An observation and amateur analysis brought me to the same conclusion as did listening to adult laments. It started later, because they could not happen until I turned seven and had my first communion. 
There was no particular order to communion at St. Columba Church. Each pew of people decided by nods of consensus when non-communicants would sit back and let communicants exit the pew and head to the communion rail. We always sat as a family about a third of the way from the front on the left hand side (Mary's side, Joseph's side was on the right facing the altar). We would file out to the left putting us in the outside aisle headed to the altar. We would usually--but not always--returned by the intermediate aisle, entering the pew from the right. My parents seldom went to communion in those early days; they did on Christmas and Easter. We kids all filed out of the pew each Sunday. 
I must have often sat near the outer aisle, because I remember often finding myself among several old ladies. There was a bit of jumble and a somewhat reverent scramble to get in line.  Would the old lady now standing near my pew let me into line ahead of her or behind her? Well, I learned there were two kinds of old ladies. There were those who smiled, seemed to enjoy my joining them, and gave me silent gestures to take my place in front of them. There were others with grim faces who made no eye contact and used their elbows and steps to make it clear that my place in line should be behind them. 
Puzzling over the difference I reverted to psychoanalysis and made a generalization. I concluded that the old ladies who smiled and let me take my place in front of them were happy with the lives they had lead. Those who elbowed me aside and kept their grim faces were dissappointed—even angry—with the lives they had lead or had been forced to lead. How else could I explain the difference to myself? 

I did not restrict my conclusion to old ladies. It was just that there were more of them going to communion than old men. 

This is a story I have told less often, perhaps because I recall it less often. No matter; its effect was to reinforce my resolution to avoid the “If-I-only-had” traps in life. I did not want to grow old with a grim face, elbowing aside kids on their way to communion or anywhere else.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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