This post is inspired by Cathleen Miles, who I never met, but who came to The Rock with just three weeks left in her senior year to reflect at the very end.
They say when you start out that these four years, this sliver of a life, will be constituted by the choices you make—the things you do. But looking back on it, mostly, it was the things we didn’t do.
It was the choices we turned down to make other choices. It was spring break in Appalachia or Punta Cana. It was the weekend I was called for Kairos, spent climbing the Duomo in Florence. It was every time we ducked of out somewhere early to turn up somewhere else late, and ended up wishing we’d stayed at the first place. It was picking work over fun, or vice versa. It was skipping class: for Opening Day at Fenway, for the Frozen Four, or for no reason at all. It was all the readings we never did.
It was the things we had no control over. We didn’t live on Newton. We didn’t get an eight-man, but we didn’t get CoRo either. Our pick times were too late for a Mod, for a capstone. We were fine with what we ended up with, we said, but we couldn’t help but wonder.
It was all the things we said we were going to do when we got the chance, then didn’t. Traveling every weekend when we went abroad, sailing across the English Channel into Ireland, riding camels down in Morocco. Staying till the Alma Mater at every home football game senior year. Roadtripping for every away hockey game, getting tipsy at a Motel 6 in Orono. Senior night at Mary Ann’s every Tuesday; most nights we couldn’t be bothered with the lines.
It was those lazy nights last summer when we said we’d go someplace different for once, when we could have gone anywhere in the world, but we stuck with what was familiar, all those nights blurring into one hazy summer. We never dared to step outside of our circle, safe on the rooftop. We would have forgotten them anyway.
It was the things we wanted but didn’t get. Orientation leader, forum leader, the New York Times contest, scholarships, seven semesters of shows. It was the things we weren’t bold enough to try. Open mic nights and auditions; submitting to a literary magazine, a real one. It was the things we couldn’t do if we tried. Passing calculus, for one. Running the marathon, for another; I was better built for Sunday mornings eating breakfast potatoes in Lower, not long runs on Comm Ave.
It was the times we didn’t do anything. It was the time I sold my ticket to the Nelly concert freshman year, then spent the money at CVS on makeup wipes, nail polish and an issue of Cosmo instead. It was lazy mornings blending into afternoons on each other’s beds in our Walsh four-man, on the couch at our house on Radnor. It was waking up on the top bunk in 90 to the sound of the marching band and staying in bed instead of going to the game. Those were the good ones.
But there were also the times we could have taken action, the words we could have said but didn’t until it was too late. It was the times we stayed silent, claiming we weren’t dignifying them with a response when we were really too afraid to speak up for ourselves, too proud to ask for forgiveness or offer it.
I wish I’d said “thank you” and “I’m sorry” to people who deserved to hear it. I wish I’d said “I love you” when I meant it. I wish I’d wasted less of this precious time on pride or shame or foolishness. I wish I’d had more patience. I wish I had stood up for myself and fought harder. But at times, these virtues have all been things I didn’t do.
It was people, mostly, the ones we never got to know. It was the ones we didn’t talk to again, for whatever reason. It was everyone we ever swiped left on, or everyone we swiped right on but didn’t match with, or everyone we matched with but never spoke to, but I’m going to stop this metaphor right here before I start implying that anything resulting from Tinder is at all worth one’s time.
But what I’m getting at is this: often we pass people by and linger on others for too long, and it’s the former that we wonder about when the latter lets us down.
It was the promises we broke. It was the long-term bets we made sophomore year, the ones I found in a shoebox under my bed at home last summer, laughing at the ones that never came true, crying for the ones that did. It was every time we said “let’s get coffee or lunch” but never did. It was every number we put in our phones and never dialed. It was every “not tonight” or “maybe tomorrow” or “next time”, until this was all we had left.
We did a lot, to be sure. For everything we didn’t do, there was another choice we made, something that made us happy, maybe, if just for the time being. There’s nothing I could change now—and nothing I’d want to, really. But as the end nears, I can’t help but dwell on the ghosts of all those things I didn’t do.