Missed opportunities. Hmmmm. Where to begin?
I could walk to the shrine of Our Lady of Disappointment wherein the catalog of life-changing flub ups reside or skip to the Pillar of Indecision, finding there lashed the tens of thousands of chances missed. Poor judgment, impulsive reaction, clumsy hesitation, fearful posturing – the faces of mangled opportunity are many and varied.
Some opportunities once missed are lost forever. Harsh words can’t be unsaid, can’t be unheard. Betrayed trust leaves a permanent stain. Forgiveness withheld, apology withheld, amends withheld, love withheld – these have an expiration date.
Some missed opportunities are the roads not taken, the careers not chosen, the lives not led. It was Archimedes who plonked down in a bathtub and noticed that his body displaced a quantity of water equal to the mass of his mass. Apparently there were witnesses present at the event able to report that the dripping philosopher cried, “Eureka!” as he stumbled, naked, into posterity. Choices we make displace other opportunities; having joined the circus, we don’t go to medical school. In Economics, the phenomenon is termed “Opportunity Cost”, the cost of taking one action to the exclusion of another. If, for example, I choose to watch a re-broadcast of the episode in which Mr. Ed, the talking horse, feels unloved and decides to become the first horse in space (“The Horsetronaut” first broadcast in October of 1961), I lose the opportunity in that half-hour to write deathless prose that might have inspired mankind and prevented world famine.
That may be an exaggeration, but you see my point.
The cost of missed opportunity need not be attached to mutually exclusive choices. It is in this realm, that of opportunities not YET taken, that possibility flourishes. I guess I’m thinking of sloshing some of that displaced bath water back into the tub. Those neglected gifts, the aptitudes we have postponed developing, the interests we let lie fallow -they may have wilted a bit and need some tending, but doors we may have walked stiffly past might still be opened. Doors we have bolted in our personal relationships shut us in as much as they shut others out; how can we estimate the cost of apologies not offered or not accepted, thanks not given or not accepted?
There’s nothing original in observing that we may feel the deepest regret in the loss of a future that will not happen; shattered futures hang heavily upon us. In some instances, however, we have opportunities to mend the future to some extent. When in Casablanca Ilsa Lund walks into Rick’s cafe (“Everybody comes to Rick’s”), they have a chance to face the future they have lost. Rick and Ilsa will move on to lives other than those they had imagined, but they are reconciled and healed. They will always have Paris, and that is not merely good enough; it is simply good.
Since I’ve wallowed in cinematic schmaltz for a moment, I might as well trot out the next goopy reference. The lesson taught in The Dead Poet’s Society was that we must seize the day, Carpe Diem, but the alternate truth is that days unseized go on and on in the course of a lifetime. Let’s put Archimedes back in the tub and consider seizing the next day or the one that follows, “Postero Die”, looking back at opportunities not yet taken but still available.
In this relative universe, it’s never too late to be on time.