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A Zipper of a Life

The Road Less Travelled has a post about the unlived life, bouncing off a new book from Adam Phillips called Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.  I’m not sure whether my unlived lives are worthy of praise, and while I’m cognizant of those other lives, I’m not sure I crave them even if I crave aspects of them.  So I’m not sure how much embracing the fact that they aren’t lived out possibilities will reduce frustration at life as is.  Or maybe I just don’t emotionally fall into the group of people that Phillips is discussing since my mind is more on the future than the past?

Because don’t we focus on both?  There are the roads diverging in the future — that idea that we’re constantly standing at a crossroads and making a choice that leads this way or that — as well as all the diverging roads behind us.  So life looks more like one of those two-way zippers, with the threads pulling apart at the top and the bottom, connected in the middle, where you are right now.


Infertility is about living in the future.  Any time you’re working toward something, you’re not really frustrated with roads not taken insomuch as you’re frustrated by the idea of roads you can’t get on yet.  And loss is about living in the past, thinking about all the what ifs, the tiny things you didn’t do that maybe would have made a difference even if you know that it probably would not.  And when you mix infertility with loss together… how does your zipper heart know which direction to go?

And then there are the roads not taken that I don’t even remember not taking (or even deeper than that, the ones I wasn’t even aware existed).  Sometimes I’ll read an old journal entry and suddenly remember a decision I made that I’ve forgotten about.  Do all of those choices subconsciously stay with us?  Is our heart just a clutter of all the rejected choices like deleted emails in the trash folder before it gets emptied?  Except it never gets emptied?  Do all those unlived lives have the same weight when it comes to current decision making, or do the lived choices carry more power than the unlived ones (or vice versa)?

It’s a lot to chew on, thinking about past unlived lives or future ones we hope to live.

Where is your mind — traveling more to the past unlived lives or the future not-yet-lived lives?  Which has a stronger pull on how you feel about your current life — the past or the future?

Photo Credit: Lululemon


1 Valery Valentina { 02.03.13 at 11:01 am }

Ah, the lives not lived!
When deep in the trenches of IF I kept wondering/wandering back into my past. What if I had stayed with that one boyfriend, I might have been in time for my own eggs (invariably when those boyfriends would announce their family beginnings. And then their second child)
Now, 37w5d pregnant with, uhm, one unvanished twin, I try to stick to the here and now. My heart aches for the loss, and at the same time I’m aware that I didn’t lose them both, didn’t have any extra risks, have avoided prematurity.
It is impossible for me to say that not living the nightmare makes up for not having the twin dream come true.
Mhm, so right now my unlived lives make me sad, but the one that is real is so good it is worth sticking to the here and now, gently nudging myself to the near future…

2 m. { 02.03.13 at 12:48 pm }

What a thoughtful post, hey? I’ve been thinking about that one for a few days now as well.

Right now, at this moment, I entertain myself with thoughts of our near future. One that has seemed so far away for so, so long. At the same time, I also find myself cramming in as much possible into the now, and trying to be cognizant of it. Enjoy this Now. Remember the Now. I haven’t been thinking about lives unlived. Not right now anyway.

3 Jamie { 02.03.13 at 1:57 pm }

Awesome post! I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing and have not found the words to express it. I have been feeling the pull of both kids of unlived lives–the ones of my past and the ones I hope to someday have the opportunity to live. But I am trying to bounce myself back into the present and take more notice of the road I am on right now. I am trying to pause, take in and appreciate where I am at this moment in time. I feel an urgency to be mindful and observant of what is going on around me to be able to seize new opportunities as my life takes a new shape. Love your post and I may have to think on it a little more.

4 Battynurse { 02.03.13 at 2:16 pm }

It is a lot to think about. I love your post and another post I read about the book. I just doubt my ability to get through the book.

5 a { 02.03.13 at 4:32 pm }

Hmmm. Past unlived lives are more my focus. Future yet-to-be lived moments for my daughter are also a concern. I don’t have that many more major decisions to make, and I’ve never really been one to worry incessantly about the future.

6 persnickety { 02.03.13 at 6:31 pm }

I have this occassionally. Jobs I could have taken, decisions not made.

The one that comes up the most for me is the result of inaction- I was kind of seeing a japanese guy in Japan a few years ago (i was interested, he was interested he didn’t really know how to approach me, so it fizzled because I wasn’t sure he really was interested). He got me a nice b-day present, and I found out from a friend he was interested but he was also concerned because he was an only son and there is the whole take care of the parents thing in Japan, so he wasn’t sure. I didn’t have the drive to pursue it further. Sometimes I wonder if i would be living in Japan as a housewife with a kid or two (having started earlier on that path) and negotiating the levels of radiation in our food (this was in the prefecture with the power plant that went bad).

7 Siochana { 02.03.13 at 8:38 pm }

This is a very thought provoking post and I really like the image/metaphor of the zipper (I also try to understand things by picturing them as something else.)

I think “living in the past/future” is really a misnomer in a way because that is impossible. But one can live looking forward/looking back and thinking about those divergent roads. I sometimes look back to my past roads, but luckily not with regret as I don’t regret any choices I’ve made to that extent. (Maybe they weren’t perfect choices but I have never been qualified to make “perfect” choices). I am goal oriented so I do live looking toward the future. But I also remind myself that while it’s a good idea to plan and prepare for the future, it’s not really in our control. The death of a relative in a car accident last year was a timely reminder of that. (Totally random: he was 26, in college, starting to get his life together and very excited about it.) A former colleague also passed away from cancer. Some of her last words: “All I can say is live your life and enjoy it.”

And another quote from a current, treasured colleague:

“All you can do is be the best person you can every day.”
(She said this to reassure some students who were worried about the world ending in 2012.)

8 Justine { 02.03.13 at 9:00 pm }

I tend to worry more over past unlived lives … because I second-guess some of my decisions. If only I’d done X, I wonder if Y would have happened? Maybe I need to make more peace with where I am. Maybe there’s no “maybe” about it.

Thought provoking posts.

9 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.04.13 at 2:37 am }

Before I had resolved my IF, I thought more about past unlived lives, but now I never question any past decisions and barely even think about any past decisions. Sometimes I wonder about other lives that I didn’t end up living where it wasn’t due to my decision but something else (jobs I didn’t get, house that didn’t sell, someone’s death, etc.). Not dwelling in those lives, but just sometimes things like, “hmm we almost lived in that city, that seems so weird now, I’m glad it didn’t happen that way.”

And therefore I guess by default I now think more about the future, esp. now that I have an illness that can close off some paths that previously had seemed wide open. But I can barely manage the present so I don’t spend much time in either the past or future.

10 k { 02.04.13 at 12:49 pm }

This is interesting to me because I am in friendly contact with my ex-husband, who is expecting his first child any day now after a battle with infertility with his current wife. And I wonder would we have been infertile together those oh so many years ago? Or would we have had time on our side? We both talked about how we sometimes look at my children and think they were supposed to have been “ours” even though that doesn’t really make sense.

And there are the losses. The siblings who are supposed to be here. And as I literally gear up to go in to start an IUI cycle I am living in the now and in the not-yet-lived. I supposed right now I do a lot of living in the future. Thinking about what my twins will be like at 8, or 10, or 15. And thinking about and hoping that the trip we take to vegas in july will be one in which I’ll be traveling pregnant, yet shaking off the thought for fear it jinxes things. I work really really hard to live in today, to teach my kids to live in today. But it’s hard – especially when everyone’s gone to bed and I don’t know how to shut down my brain.

11 Shelby { 02.04.13 at 5:22 pm }

This one gets me to thinking! Nice analogy. Time, choices, paths–it’s all so complicated. My brain kinda hurts…

I will indulge a trip in the past and even dabble in regret, despite this practice being completely non-productive, but mostly I live in the future and certainly too much so. I am drawn by possibilities and making them happen. Too bad I can’t just make the second kid thing just ‘happen’.

I have a very wise student whose outside therapist is specific in teaching her mindfullness (which I love). Well, this student often quotes her therapist who has said that living in the past breeds depression and living in the future breeds anxiety. This is so true. It all comes down to our need to control life–this living in different time periods. The problem is I miss out on the ‘now’ while chasing the ‘someday’. But then again, if I don’t feel some pull towards forward momentum, then I’m afraid the motivation to keep moving might disappear.

12 Anne { 02.04.13 at 6:12 pm }

Oh boy. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, because of the (somewhat) early demise of my eggs. I’ve done a lot of “if only” thinking. But the truth is, I like the life I created out of the choices I made. I just don’t like the fact that my ovaries didn’t have enough eggs to give me the number of children I wanted to have. If I had made other choices I likely would have stayed in my hometown and been vaguely dissatisfied with the life I made there. Now at least I have something definite to be sad about!

13 loribeth { 02.05.13 at 10:20 am }

Thanks for the shout-out Mel — I too love the zipper analogy!

I have to give credit to La Belette Rouge, though — we both stumbled onto this topic & blogged about it at the same time (and I would encourage everyone to have a look at her take on the subject), but she’s actually read the book! ; )

14 Myndi { 02.08.13 at 2:50 pm }

Hmmm…I prefer to look at it as the life not yet lived, instead of the life not lived. Because I was on a very different life trajectory before I met my husband, and there are elements of that path that I still covet. I don’t regret the decisions that I’ve made, and I’m not necessarily unhappy with where I’m at, but there is a part of me that needs to find a way to incorporate bits of that previous path into my existing one. So, not really a life not lived, but part of a life that hasn’t been totally integrated just yet. If that at all makes sense.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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