October in Vermont is a month that tugs your heart back and forth. It is undeniably beautiful: peak foliage season, bringing busloads of “leaf peepers” and wavering chains of backroad cyclists into our town. Looking out the windows from where I sit at my computer, I feel like I’m inside a golden box. The woods are yellow and brown and red and just the tiniest bit of green, and they glow. It’s a breathtaking time of year.
But it tugs at your heart because you know it won’t last. It’s a quick transition between the emerald warmth of summer and the white freeze of winter. And, like all transitions, it’s not without mess: the green leaves mixed in among the autumn colors, the temperatures that swing wildly from the 30s to the 70s.
It is quite possible that I’m in the October of my life right now.
I spent the first part of the month looking backwards with some regret. “If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have had all the kids right away, in my 20s, and then gone to college,” I told my husband one night. Never mind the glaringly obvious logistical problems with that statement (like: How is it in any way easier to go to college AFTER having four kids?); what I meant was that it seems wasteful that I invested in my education when I was mentally young (i.e. immature), thus delaying offspring until I was physically older. Childbirth and rearing would’ve probably been less taxing when I was physically younger, and higher education would’ve been less wasted on my when I was mentally older.
That’s all beside the point; the point is that I didn’t know then what I know now, and that’s the crucial fly in the ointment of all regrets. If I’d had children earlier, I’d have been a very different mother with very different children. If I’d waited to launch my education and career (such as it is), I’d have skipped over some vitally important formative experiences. Flip-flopping my timeline doesn’t get me to where I am now, just younger and with a better vocational plan: It changes everything.
But there I sat, in October of 2014 and in my own emotional October, looking back with regret, wondering why I hadn’t made better use of my summer.
Then the other night, my husband pointed out that this week is the 15-year anniversary of when we started dating. That news sent me into a completely different sort of backward glancing.
It sent me back to that Halloween weekend of 1999, when a young couple on their third date had just finished a nice dinner in Greenwich Village. As they crossed lower Sixth Avenue, they held hands for the first time.
This sort of backward glancing always makes me think about how much fun it must be to be God. Because I see this couple, as if from above, and I think: They have no idea.
We didn’t know then what we know now.
We didn’t know that three years later we’d get married, after a dating relationship that tested every bit of faith and commitment we had in us.
And then, when we were newly married, there was a certain little girl who lived in our building and who always made us chuckle when we shared an elevator with her and her mother. My husband called her “the sassy Asian girl.” He’d say, “It would be fun to have a sassy Asian girl someday.”
He had no idea.
So I’ve spent these final days of October looking back over the past 15 years with this “God’s-eye view.” Revisiting the quarrels and the make-ups, the trips around the world, the years of graduate school and jobs, the loving moments with friends and family, the illnesses and the childbirths. And the thing is, when I take this view, there’s just so much joy. Joy, and wonder at it all.
And yes, there were hard and sorrowful and horrible times. But when I take the “God’s-eye view,” I don’t see any of those times with regret. I just think: I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know that it would be okay in the end. I didn’t know how those moments would become crucial pieces of the whole.
Where does that lead me?
Having looked back with regret, and having looked back with joy and wonder, the common denominator is: I didn’t know then what I know now. Our cosmic ignorance in each present moment can lead to regret, or it can lead to joy and wonder. And, like most things — like October — it’s a both/and. Regrets can coexist with joy and wonder.
But, given the choice, it’s probably better for your heart to try and take the “God’s-eye view.” It’ll keep you warmer come winter.