Sunday, April 09, 2017

`As If Life Would Be Happier'

Memory or lingering dream? I’m not certain. I woke thinking of an event in my life that still brings regret. I can go months or longer in happy, effortless forgetfulness – then, like mushrooms after spring rain, it emerges ripe and complete after more than forty years. Abetted by time, I’ve made amends. I’m unlikely to behave the way I did more than half a lifetime ago. I flatter myself with the thought that today I am more decisive, likelier to take the long view, that my actions more closely align with my sense of rightness – but I’m not convinced. I’ve learned a lesson articulated by Dr. Johnson in The Idler #72:

“Regret is indeed useful and virtuous, and not only allowable but necessary, when it tends to the amendment of life, or to admonition of error which we may be again in danger of committing. But a very small part of the moments spent in meditation on the past, produce any reasonable caution or salutary sorrow.”

I can’t be hasty with congratulations. Time has done much of the work for me. Johnson, the great realist of human nature, writes: “. . . that which is regretted to-day may be regretted again tomorrow.” Dana Gioia has written a Johnsonian poem in “Summer Storm” (Interrogations at Noon, 2001):

“And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.”

[Go here for a video of Gioia reading “Summer Storm.”)

No comments: