If life was like word processing, we’d all come complete with an ‘undo’ function or an F5 ‘refresh’ key.
But life isn’t, so we don’t.
Still, I’m always intrigued by anything related to introspection or self-examination, or taking a look at how we’re living life to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. So it’s no wonder the book, “What Alice Forgot” said, “Pick me! Pick me!” on the ‘Summer Reads’ table at Barnes & Noble.
The novel, by Liane Moriarty, is about a soon-to-be-divorced, 39-year-old mother-of-three who falls and bumps her head during a spin class. Knocked unconscious, she awakens and believes she’s a very happily married, pregnant 29-year-old who hates exercise. In other words, she’s suddenly erased ten years of her life.
It’s an entertaining and humorous look at a woman who suddenly gets a chance at a sort of life do-over. She can fix problems, right some wrongs, and repair relationships that got broken during her lost decade that she’d lived thinking only about the minutiae of her life. As she pieces back together each memory after memory, she gets the opportunity to delve deeper beneath the surface of her life to examine who she was and who she became, and integrate which parts from each of her ‘selves’ that worked better.
“It wasn’t just that her memories of the last ten years were back. It was that her true self, as formed by those ten years, was back. As seductive as it might have been to erase the grief and pain of the last ten years, it was also a lie. Young Alice was a fool. A sweet, innocent fool. Young Alice hadn’t experienced ten years of living.
“But even as she tried to reason with her, scolded her, and grieved for her, Young Alice stubbornly refused to go away. … Finally, she stopped resisting and called a truce. Young Alice was allowed to stay as long as she didn’t eat too much chocolate.
“Now it seemed like she could twist the lens on her life and see it from two entirely different perspectives. The perspective of her younger self. Her younger, sillier, innocent self. And her older, wiser, more cynical and sensible self.
“And maybe sometimes Young Alice had a point.”
So of course, the book got me thinking. If I suddenly woke up believing I was ten years younger, what ‘Younger Me’ traits did I lose that I would like to rediscover, and what things would “Older-but-wiser Me” be right about.
In other words, what are the things in life I’d like do-overs on?
1. I’d pay more attention to my marriage: With kids, life nowadays seems to be all about them. Their schedules drive our day-to-day, and we spend, save and dote mostly on them. Before kids, we’d explore more, SCUBA dive together, and have deeper discussions about more than just, “You take child A to that sport and I’ll take child B to the birthday party.”
My husband and I are definitely in it for the long haul, but should we really be letting time slip away thinking, “Okay, this decade is all about them, someday we’ll have more time to be about us.” Younger Me is right on about marriage needing a little more caretaking and attention so that the common ground is easy to reach. Plus, it’ll be a good lesson for the kids about how to be an active participant in a loving marriage and family.
2. I’d be a better friend: Just like a marriage, friendships take nurturing and attention to work. I haven’t always been consistent with keeping up my part of the relationship—calling, emailing back, keeping track. I think my life would be so much richer by investing in the women who are keepers.
3. I wouldn’t have wasted the six months last year that I spent not speaking to my sister: Pride can be an awful thing. And as much as our relationship probably needed a little realignment, it would have served both of us better to be talking with one another rather than engaging in our own version of a Cold War. I will never regain those six months, and I’m the poorer for it. I’m going to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again, with her or anyone else that I love.
4. I’ll never again give away the milk for free: Once in my “Younger Me” life there was the guy who didn’t buy the cow, who I let stay around much longer than he should have. But whether it’s a romantic relationship, a work relationship, or any time someone is getting something from me that deserves an equal return on my investment from them, I’m going to make sure I’m getting what I deserve—and not devaluing myself in the process.
5. I’d remember how to play: I’m not the game-playing parent. I’m less likely than my husband to cut loose, break the rules or let a moment pass without teaching my children a ‘valuable’ lesson. But the Younger Me would remember that not every moment needs to be a teaching moment; some moments are just about having fun with one another. Because truthfully, that’s what my kids will remember looking back on their time with mom.
6. I’d take it easy on myself and realize that sometimes you make mistakes and you get to try again: Thankfully, Older Me has learned that screwing up on occasion is okay, and that I don’t need to be perfect. Even though the other five things I’d like do-overs on are good ones to remember, life allows for learning from your mistakes, to help you grow and improve with time. That’s what makes life rich, delicious and amazing.
Which is something that Moriarty, the author of “What Alice Forgot,” put so nicely toward the end of her book.
“It was good to remember that for every horrible memory, there was also a happy one. She wanted to see it clearly, to understand that it wasn’t all black, or all white. It was a million colors.”
What a beautiful way to think about the idea that, if you really could turn back time, would you actually want anything to be changed at all? Those colors of your life are there because of all the things you’ve been and seen and done and experienced.
Living with Alice for the last week or so has been such profound fun. Young Alice is a funny chick, and were she real, I’d love to sit and share a glass or three of wine over laughs with her. But watching her morph back into Old Alice was a reminder gift-wrapped with a big fat bow.
Life doesn’t come with an undo button, and there are no do-overs. But you can certainly try and learn from where you remember you’ve been.
Because you never know when you might bonk yourself on the head, and wind up forgetting the things you never knew you wanted to hold onto and remember for forever.