Our Unlived Lives

I recently read this article from the New York Times and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Its about our unlived lives, the alternative lives we could be living if we had made different choices or had different opportunities.

Do you ever imagine what your life would have been if somewhere along the way you took a different path? I do. In my mind there exist several different Ashas who lead different lives.

In one of my unlived lives I’m a professional. Instead of switching my into the SLP-Assistant program at my college, I continue on my track of becoming an SLP. I get in English or sociology. I get accepted into the SLP program, or I don’t and switch to social work or psychology and go on to work as a therapist. It doesn’t matter what I do- what does matter is that I’m educated, and I thrive in both school and work. I get married a little later, to another man, and so we have different marriage problems. We might struggle with infertility and miscarriage, but we do have children. I don’t know how many, but at least one of them is a daughter. My life is busy and full, despite it challenges, and I’m happy most of the time.

There’s another unlived life where John didn’t lose his job, where we didn’t move to Lethbridge, and we still live in Edmonton. We still attend our homeschool co-op and my kids can continue to grow the friendships begun there, with neighbor kids, or at church. We go for walks often in the ravine behind our house, and are negotiating with our landlord to purchase the home we’ve been living in. We’d be facing the same challenges we were facing before, but swapping out the family support we have now for the community of friends we had then.

In another alternative, instead of moving to Lethbridge when John looses his job we sell all our things and buy an RV to travel for a year. We’ve had the best and most adventurous year- visiting lots of national parks in both the US and Canada, touring historic sites, swimming in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. We’d have fought over the year (close quarters), but we come back with lots of memories and closer as a family because of it. We’d be just returning home to spend Christmas with family and decide what to do next. Maybe John finds an engineering job, maybe we still move to Lethbridge to work at the golf course, maybe we decide the nomadic life suits us and decide to go overseas next. In this fantasy, noticeabley absent are the mental health challenges that would have actually made a year of travel impossible, as well as Covid-19 which would have thrown a wrench in these plans too.

Another unlived life more closely parallels the one I’m living. Except in this one I’m a much better version of myself. I’m still married to John, we still live in Lethbridge, and I still homeschool the boys. But I’m more engaged in our community, I’m more outgoing, and so we and our children have more friends. We’re busier. I’m more present and intentional in my role as a stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom, and so we not only are able to get more things done, but also feel more connected doing so. I’ve probably found a way to make some money on the side. And I’ve been successful in my efforts to establish an exercise routine and better eating habits. In this alternative, I’m not going through a faith crisis. I’m not plagued with questions and doubts that no amount of apologetics will make go away, but have the simple faith of a child again.

But the thing with all these unlived lives is that even though it is fun to escape into the fantasy of a parallel me, I’m not sure that any of those other alternative lives are better than the one I’m living now. I don’t know if I’d want to give up some of the blessings or hard-earned lessons of my current life. If I changed my educational path, I might not have married John. My marriage would have different joys and different challenges, and different kids. I’d be a different person. And I think I’d choose our marriage and our problems and our kids. I am far from living as the best version of myself, but I like the person I am and the person I’m becoming. I might live a small life that in the end won’t be very interesting, and it might sometimes be hard enough and lonely enough that I’ll fantasize about those unlived lives, but at the end of the day I like my life. And I like the people in my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

{Except perhaps more books. One can never have too many books.}

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