Saturday, March 21, 2020

Count your lucky regrets

Life is a collage of choices. I do not care how smart or educated we think we are. There are really no easy choices in life when it comes down to the most important ones, but we should not look at mistakes as regrets. At age 22, I began writing. It happened like the big bang, though theoretically I think a broken heart had triggered it. At age 27, I had a moment as a writer, I felt as one with the universe. I was home. And somewhere after that I began calling myself a writer with pride and confidence. But as a writer I did not feel as one with my family, especially my parents. They were sick with worry. What was to become of their son? Writing was such a difficult path, but it was already too late. I couldn’t turn back. I had fallen in love with it. I had been called, and I said yes without a second of hesitation.

I have had three steady girlfriends I truly loved. They were girls I had to step out of my comfort zone of bashfulness to ask out. As these relationships took their natural course we found ourselves living in sin. A couple of times I thought I was going to be a father. It was two weeks of no guilt and shame I had ever felt. It was a secret we hoped to keep locked away in the volt of our closet.

It frightened me to death, but in the midst of all the guilt and shame—even before we made the conscious choice to live in sin—we made the choice to accept the responsibility of potentially becoming parents. I don’t know why we never became parents—I still struggle with the reality that somehow we didn’t—but now, when I look back, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe I just wasn’t ready. Maybe God had other plans for me—as a writer. To this day, I am incredibly thankful of these other plans.

It has been like a marriage—twenty-some years as a writer. I have never committed to anything that long before—not even a marriage, which crumbled in three years. When I was 21, I was invited to try out for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I didn’t go because of fear. I could have gotten a basketball scholarship, but it turned out when I stepped out onto the court, I suffered from stage freight. My father had arranged my college major, architectural engineering, and that didn’t work out. I had other ideas. I wanted to be a scientist, which didn’t work out either. But writing seemed to fit like a glove. 

Although it became a tremendous amount of work—I had never put forth more effort for anything else—it never felt like work. It was too fun, too enjoyable. It was like falling in love.

In the beginning as an aspiring writer, I wonder if I would have had any social life without girlfriends. I think who I was, where I wanted to go in life, and what it took to get there eventually caught up with these girls, too. They eventually lost patience with my dreams of becoming an author. I think that was the reason if you read between the lines. They, too, saw the path. It was not a path at all but one to be cut and created into a jungle.

Besides being a writer I also have also felt a paternal side. Over the years I’ve fantasized about becoming a father. I fantasized about carrying a baby in my arms, their heads resting on my shoulder as I stood in line for communion in church. I fantasized about becoming a pilot, owning a seaplane, landing in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean to change a baby diaper on the wing. I fantasized about having altar servers.

Now I know the realities of these fantasies are fading fast if not having already faded. I will never be addressed “Dad.” I will never be able to say “No” to a teenager, watch her stomp her feet, say “I hate you! You’re the worse parent ever!” then run upstairs to slam her bedroom door shut. “I hate you! You’re the worse parent ever!” These seem like such harsh, disrespectful words, but they are probably a sign you’re doing your job as a parent, which from what I hear is the most difficult job in the world. I sometimes envy the moment in Father of the Bride when Steve Martin goes outside to talk with his daughter while they play basketball the night before she gets married, or when he walks past her bedroom, seeing her as an aspiring architect in college.

I realize now that this is perhaps what I had to sacrifice to make the conscious choice to become a writer. The little choices we don’t feel as much, but the bigger ones affect the bigger picture. Writing can be therapy. It is talking to that inner-psychologist. A cousin said to me, “Remember, Matt. Everyone talks to someone.” That someone is my inner-voice.

There is a hidden cost to every choice we make. Whether we want to admit it, these choices not only affect us but other people as well, especially our family and friends. There isn’t a time when I am writing when I don’t think about the worry I put my parents through to get where I am today. I thought I knew love. I thought I was patient. Parents are the most patient people of all, not to mention the unconditional love they have for their children. If I ever win an Oscar for a screenplay, the first people I will thank are my parents. Sorry, Academy. It is all about the Odyssey, not the Oscar. I would like to believe that if these are choices we make with our heart then it is what God asks of us, has intended for us. It is our North, and we will understand in time with no regrets.

Yes, I may never have a child. I may never hear those enchanting, heart-melting, heart-warming words “I love you, Dad” or just “Dad” but I also know this. It is not over for me, not by a long shot. I really have no regrets. I have two nieces and one nephew. When I see them, and they call out “Uncle Matt!” it is like music. I’m not so sure they understand what I do as a writer. Heck, sometimes I don’t even understand it, but what I do hope is they understand how much I love them, not just with words but with the time I spend with them. I have the chance to be the best uncle I can be. I have a chance to set an example for them. I have a chance to teach them that yes, anything is possible, that if it lies within their heart, trust it, chase it no matter what stands in their way or what people say. Your heart will never mislead you or let you down. There are times when we might not want to hear what that inner-voice has to say, we might not want to go where it wants us to go, but it is our guide, our North. It is the most honest and crystal-clear thing we will ever know. If we only listen to it it will never give us more than we can handle or let us down.

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