Your life changes in an instant.
Author Howard Axelrod reminds us of this truth in his book The Point of Vanishing.
For Howard Axelrod, it was a freak basketball injury during his junior year at Harvard, leaving him permanently blind in one eye.
One moment he had perfect vision, the next came the explosion, throwing him indefinitely to the other side.
Of course, not all explosions are so obvious, so dramatic, carry such force.
As a senior in high school, I was offered scholarships to two different universities.
I visited one of them, met some fellow students, and decided to go there.
But…a problem soon developed.
In order to verify my financial aid, they needed copies of my parents’ income tax returns.
This was in 1986, long before email or even fax machines.
So I made photocopies, stuck them in an envelope, put on a stamp, and mailed them off.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from the university saying they hadn’t received the documents.
So I went through the process again: photocopying the documents, putting them in an envelope, attaching a stamp, mailing them off.
A few weeks later, another letter from the university: We still haven’t received your parents’ tax returns.
Eventually I got tired of this dance…me sending the documents, them telling me they hadn’t received them.
So I said “screw it, I’ll go to the other university”.
And so I did.
BOOM!!! An explosion.
My life changed in that instant, split into two different lives, with two different timelines.
I sometimes think about that other life, that life where my parents’ income tax documents arrived safely and I went to my first choice university.
What would I be doing? Where would I be living? Would I even still be alive?
Of course, there’s no way to ever answer those questions.
The truth is this:
We have an infinite number of possible lives, but only one actual, real life.
Our lives split over and over and over again.
Every day, maybe even every second.
And not just because of what we do or don’t do.
But also because of what other people do or don’t do.
An infinite number of splits, an infinite number of possible lives.
The life we have to live though is the ONE right here.
In all its beauty, in all its tragedy, in all its light, in all its pain.
And yes, sometimes we can’t help wondering, can’t help being curious about those other lives.
But we have to touch those other lives gently, with care.
Staying in curiosity, staying in wonder.
Otherwise, we risk slipping into regret.
Life is difficult enough, challenging enough without adding the pain of regret to the mix.
And to be sure, most of those splits, most of those possible lives, we don’t think or care much about.
But there are others that do leave some sort of mark on us: Howard Axelrod’s blindness, my choice of university.
What do we do about those?
Howard Axelrod continues:
And so this is my challenge to you.
Think about this: what are the major splits, the major explosions in your life?
How do you interact with those splits? Do you touch them gently, with wonder and curiosity? Or do you look back at them with a feeling of regret?
And have you answered the questions to open the ripped sky into a deeper sky behind???