Today’s word is not in any way synonymous with the condiment slathered on fried potatoes. That would be too easy.
I’m writing about “catch-up,” a white-hot energy. “Playing catch-up” is an experience where we feel we have to make up for lost time, and it’s an experience that can lead to excitement or anxiety. As I grow older, (ah, these birthdays and the reflections that go with them…) I look at the benefits and folly of playing catch-up. Since I feel like somewhat of an expert on the subject, I want to say that I choose to be excited rather than anxious about running from behind to get where I want to be.
When I become anxious, catching-up is like an internal cattle prod pushing me to do everything that I didn’t do when I was younger. This is just not possible, but the internal dialogue is intense.
“What about retirement?” (Who’s retiring?)
“Sing. Perform!” (Doing that.)
“Publish.” (Doing that.)
“What about marriage?” (Sigh.)
When I am excited, catching-up feels like I’m managing a colorful kite that’s soaring in the wind above my head, where’s it’s been for a while, until I decide to reel it in. With this game, I recognize that my catching-up is not so much about status and impressing others as it is about knowing—knowing who I am and what I want; knowing who I want to be around (I do not suffer ignorance gladly) and what makes me happy. Catching-up is about being able to tell the difference between environments that are healthy for me and those that are toxic (insecure bosses need not apply!)…you get the drift.
Then, there are the things that will never be caught–up. Just today, in a conversation with my mother, she asked,
“Did you ever have any children?” She’s forgotten again. This happens more frequently now.
“I would have had a very different life with children.”
“Yes. I would never have traveled or met so many people or learned so much about myself.” She does not understand a word I am saying. Learn about myself?
“You can still have children.”
“Do I look like Sarah in the Bible?”
“You can always adopt.” Sigh.
Regret is such an oily word. There is too much emotional residue that you cannot wash out once you have played in the waters of regret. I don’t regret my choices, but I do look back on them, even when the reflection comes with doubt.
In a workshop the other day, a woman talked about foster care and, just for a moment, I felt this tug, a push to look at what my life might have been had I not stood in opposition to family and societal expectations for women.
“You can,” she suggested, “be a foster parent.”
Oh, yes. I remember. God’s delay is not God’s denial.
Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the fire of regret was gone. One of my favorite songs is one that was sung by Edith Piaf, the great French singer.
Non, je ne regrette rien. I regret nothing.
For me, it’s about the balance of things when playing catch-up. In this game, everything must go under the bright light of reflection, but nothing should ever be submerged in the oily waters of regret.