I often wonder of a film, "what if the writer or director had decided to go this way instead?" It's something that has been most prompted by the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy, a collection of films so disjointed and mismanaged that you can't help but think 'What if?' However, I'm not going to talk any more about Star Wars today (maybe another time), but instead the similar sort of thoughts that one directs toward their own life.
There's a sort of constant longing for the life one could be living and this anxiety is preyed upon by Capitalism, or at least those that want to keep power in the current Capitalistic system. Perhaps it would not be any better under another system, but again what we are doing here is speculating in an abstract and unchallengeable manner.
Perhaps it is an aspect of an anxious personality, combined with an over active imagination, and tied together with a (narcissistic) narritivising of one's own 'life story' that leads to this worry.
What do I mean that this is "preyed upon"? Well, it makes one more amenable to sustaining an unsustainable situation in the hope/belief that you are due a positive change of circumstances based on; hard work, what you are due, good fortune, or any other of the countless things we tell ourselves are 'coming our way'.
But this is just a general 'What if' my life was better than it was. Something that is based more in what might be, looking to the future with (unrealistic or naive) hope.
What I am thinking of is more of a 'what if I had decided to go this way instead?' That is, rewriting the past and imagining what could have been.
What if... I had had the piano lessons that I asked for when I was 10? Would I be a musician?
What if... I didn't go to University at the age of 27 to study philosophy? Where would I be now?
What if... instead of engineering, I tried to get into art school right after secondary? Would I be an artist?
Many thoughts like that.
Recently, I passed the anniversary of a dear friend's death, which meant that I have now lived eight years since he died having only known him for seven years (2005-2012). Now you might think this an unnecessary obsession with statistics that are otherwise meaningless and I would agree that you are probably right, except for the meaningless part because this passage of time-with and time-without is [I think] an important descriptor. I am not making this point in order to lessen or distance my relationship, but instead it shows to me the depth that can grow in a short time and that can last, outlast, even the passing of that relationship. As I've said before it is now a 'frozen moment' that I hold, one that I in my changing state (developing, be that evolving or devolving) also changes with me, but it is entirely one-sided and unfalsifiable. Memories without other witnesses cannot be checked for correctness after all.
What if... I had never met him, or we met differently? How different would I be? Would I now be in a long-term loving relationship and a father?
What if... My story were otherwise 'written' differently? Would I still be 'me'? If I met this other 'me' would they be recognisable to me as me?
However, we cannot live in the past or the future, but nor can we live totally in the moment. We have to be able to take the lessons of our past and apply them pragmatically and truthfully to our present in a way that will positively effect our future.
This said, there is still the desire to be free of pain. The pain of grief. So, we think about never being in the situation that gave us the grief in the first place. All of these are an attempt to run away from something that is hurting us. Pain cannot be imagined away, but it can be ignored. However, some injuries will not fade unless they are dealt with. This is not like distracting yourself from a paper cut.
What if... the pain is greater than one can bear? Is emptiness an acceptable alternative?
"Cessation of suffering is possible by relinquishing attachment, not to deny but to be liberated from." Says the Buddhist.
"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." Says Westley...