Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning to Fly

Regarding Forgive Someone Tuesday, Sree posted a quote from Lilly Tomlin:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.

I love this quote and have thought about it repeatedly since reading it. For some, the quote sounds like defeat and for others, victory. For some it's the end of delusion, for others it's the beginning. For some it's the essence of acceptance, for others the essence of denial.

Everyone has experiences that they would have wanted to go differently. The degree of wanting varies significantly from experience to experience and from person to person.

Whether whimsical or desperate, whenever we want something other than what happened, we create a vacuum separating who we would have been from who we were, what we would have happened from what did happen.

Actually, as I think about it, it's more like a vertical drop. Nature abhors a vacuum, but gravity don't mess around. So, like Wile E. Coyote momentarily hanging in space after running past the edge of a cliff, wanting something other than what was creates a situation that defies nature (human nature), one that human nature will reconcile as swiftly and decisively as gravity will reconcile Wily to the canyon floor below.

Four Choices
So, like Wily, at those times, each of us is left with four choices:
  1. drop like a rock
  2. thrash desperately reaching back to the cliffs of the past hoping for a do-over
  3. stumble upon an antigravity machine
  4. learn to fly.
Our daily lives are filled with drop-like-a-rock experiences, typically going unnoticed as the gap between what was and would have been is small. Sausage patties when you'd hoped for sausage links, a short line at the coffee shop when you'd hoped for no line, seven hours of sleep rather than eight. Gravity is a great reconciler and clarifier leaving little room for doubt or confusion. What was and what would have been fuse quickly.

Sometimes, the heights of disparity are significant; the voice of impending reconciliation screams, Geronimo! In those instances, we often toy with options two through four.

Many of us delay reconciliation for years by thrashing and grasping for the plateaus of what would have been. Occasionally we brush against or even grab hold of an outcropping or small growth of vegetation. The encounters renew our hopes that we can somehow undo what happened or redo it differently. We fill our minds with thoughts of if-only and why-didn't-I. We avoid looking down at the canyon floor of the future knowing that somehow, we can regain the heights of the past.

Still others rely on magic and antigravity, denying the gravitational pull of the canyon floor below or for that matter, denying its very existence: Cliff? What cliff? They remake the past into something other than what it was. They avoid regret through denial.

The antigravity strategy works as long as you don't need to interact with anyone who shared your experience. If you do, you either find yourself consistently selling them on your remastered version of what happened or you avoid the subject altogether. If convincing and avoidance don't work, the only solution is to either abandon antigravity or apply it to the people themselves, erasing them from your life.

Finally, there are the small subset of people who learn to fly. They don't deny having stepped beyond the edge of the cliff. They don't deny the effects of gravity. They see them clearly and accept them both for what they are. And yet, they don't fall. Instead, they respond by translating reality into opportunity: an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to change, an opportunity to fly. They're creative, inventive and undeterred. The acceleration towards the canyon floor provides the opportunity to explore the effects of drag and lift as they transform plummeting into soaring. They don't avoid regret, they simply have none.

How do you deal with what would have been? Are the little falls traumatic or something you take in stride? Do you spend lots of your thought life trying to remake what happened or do you never give it a second thought? Do you plummet? Do you thrash? Do you deny? Do you soar?

Happy Wednesday,


  1. I have never heard that quote but I love it!! I'm going to copy it and send it to a friend of mine who I think for whom it will really resonate. Regret is simply a part of life -- at the same time, I think many of us really strive to live a good life, with integrity, and do the right thing. I'm enjoying "Principled Centered Living" by the Rev. Dr. Sheldon E. Williams -- he is devoted to developing principle-centered leaders worldwide. He has loads of stories that are full of surprising consequences, which we might never associate with certain choices -- and he helps show us how to make choices that help us avoid living with regret. He helps us generate simple and creative solutions to everyday dilemmas, and to protect ourselves from common pitfalls and outside pressures.

  2. I love this article. Looking back, I used to be a kid that flew very well, but then decided to change as a teenager because I believed by dropping as a rock I would get more help and attention. When this strategy didn't work, I was doing some of option two, but especially hoping for option 3! When Option 3 didn't come either, I finally started to realize that I could just start spreading my wings again like I once did... And l must tell you, relearning to fly has been a way better experience than practicing to "drop like a rock" or to grasping for something to hold onto! Liz, I am going to look into the book you suggest, sounds interesting...

  3. Tef: so cool you should pick gravity as the analogy for dealing with 'reality'. For the longest time, I used to get nightmares about falling over a cliff, especially while driving... I'd be driving somewhere and suddenly the ground would disappear and I'd be looking over a cliff down to a city on a valley far below. Also funnily, the landscape was a particular view of the city of Hamilton, Ontario, which I passed often when driving hwy 401 from Detroit to Niagara Falls. This would be accompanied by a deep feeling of fear and anxiety. After a long time of feeling helpless about it, I gradually started working on making it end differently, and eventually I did manage to get myself gliding and floating at that height. I haven't had this dream very often since, but now that I think about it, I guess I have the option to make it up as powerful and grand as I want.

    Thank you so much for bringing this up; I've been meaning for ever to post about & share this quote...



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