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Arriving at Regret} ?> It’s easy to dwell on regret. “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist charged with communicating with visiting aliens in the science fiction film Arrival, asks.
In times of reflection, I all too often dismiss that question. It feels too banal, too much like it’s part of the plot for a Disney channel movie. And my answer would inevitably be something similar to the response Jeremy Renner’s character gives: “Maybe I’d say what I felt more often. I don’t know.” I would probably change a few minor things here and there, rework some regrettable moments, but live my life generally as it has been, and how it will be, because I wouldn’t want to miss the moments I treasure; I wouldn’t want to lose my connections to people that are in my life now and in the future.
Basically, I would just live my current life, but leveled up.
But after seeing Arrival, my answer doesn’t feel like enough. What moved me profoundly in the movie was how it caused me to dig deeper and think about what I would do if I could feel all the pain of the past and all the pain to come, including the tragedy that befalls us when relationships are broken forever by death. If I knew all that, and I could change the ending, then would I really do things more or less the same, or would I veer hard left, wholly altering the route of my life? Would I make the selfish choices for my own happiness, even if it meant passing my burdens onto others and causing them pain and grief? Would I miss out on my precious moments in lieu of something better?
I hate those questions, because upon introspection, I know my answers are selfish. I see what I really value underneath all my posing and carefully chosen words. I see what I really want from life, and how little altruism is really present in my core.
In Arrival, Dr. Banks’ unique relationship with the aliens puts her in a position to make an important choice, one that forces her to think about these things, to consider what’s most important to her. It’s not an easy decision.
But still, I envy her. Banks is given a chance to know whether or not the pain was worth it. For all my bluster, for all the “life is worth the pain” quotes I can conjure, I can never really know the answer to that question. I can’t know whether it’s genuinely worth it to live through the suffering I’ll endure because I don’t know how the story ends.
So what then? Am I forever stuck living a disingenuous existence, traveling along a path and making believe that my life has meaning, that’s it’s worth living through the trials and pains, convincing myself that I’m on a road that I would take should I be given a chance to start again?
I may not know the whole script. I don’t know the full story, but I know this: I have the ability to make a choice, to move forward in the direction I feel is right. I can be a friend who takes on burdens rather than giving them to others. I can be a husband who gives and gives, and when I’m at the end of my rope, gives some more, because that’s what you do when you love someone. I can be a dad with open arms and an open mind. I can be a mentor whose integrity is so high that I won’t disappoint or crush those charged to me. I can be an employer that puts my staff’s well-being above my personal ambitions.
And while I’ll never perfectly meet those lofty standards, I can work toward them day by day. I choose them and I choose the people I love. And that, I think, is my answer to the question, “Is the life I’m living worthy of repeating and journeying through, despite all the injuries sustained along the way?” I don’t know, but I’m going to live as if it is.