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If You Could Live Your Life Again

A friend asked me – seriously asked, not joking around – what I would change if I could live my life again.

I know, it's an old question and the common answer, the quick one, the one that's supposed to reveal wise acceptance of life, is “nothing,” and although I don't recall, I would not be surprised to learn that I have said that in the past.

But I didn't do that this time. I actually thought about it – well, for as long, anyway, as is tolerable on a telephone call - and my answer then was that I would take life more seriously than I have, that I would take pains to learn more, learn it more thoroughly and better apply what I learned.

Writing it down like that makes me sound sappy but I do have, from the vantage point of age 72, a strong sense that I have lived life more frivolously than I would have liked.

After we ended the call, the question stuck with me and I wondered how other people – perhaps some more thoughtful than I – have answered.

Talullah Bankhead was her expected pithy self: “If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner,” she said.

I suspect people should read the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's harrowing take on the question early in life so not to be crushed by it later.

“What if a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say, 'This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh must come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned and you with it, dust of the dust!'

“Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon? Or would you answer, 'Never have I heard anything more divine'?”

Then I came across this poem variously attributed to the Argentine poet and essayist, Jorge Luis Borges and to the Columbian journalist and short story writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

If you believe Wikipedia – and I do, in this case – it was neither man. The first known version of the poem – titled Moments - was published as prose in 1953 in Reader's Digest titled, I'd Pick More Daisies.

The poem exists in Spanish as Instantes, in English as both Moments and Instants.

Whatever. It is well known, has been published and quoted in many places and distributed widely via internet email. See what you think.

If I could live again my life,
In the next – I’ll try,
- to make more mistakes,
I won’t try to be so perfect,
I’ll be more relaxed,
I’ll be more full – than I am now,
In fact, I’ll take fewer things seriously,
I’ll be less hygienic,
I’ll take more risks,
I’ll take more trips,
I’ll watch more sunsets,
I’ll climb more mountains,
I’ll swim more rivers,
I’ll go to more places – I’ve never been,
I’ll eat more ice creams and fewer lima beans,
I’ll have more real problems – and fewer imaginary ones,
I was one of those people who live
prudent and prolific lives -
each minute of his life,
Of course that I had moments of joy – but,
if I could go back I’ll try to have only good moments,

If you don’t know – that’s what life is made of,
Don’t lose the now!

I was one of those who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
without a hot-water bottle,
and without an umbrella and without a parachute,

If I could live again – I will travel light,
If I could live again – I’ll try to work bare feet
at the beginning of spring till the end of autumn,
I’ll ride more carts,
I’ll watch more sunrises and play with more children,
If I have the life to live – but now I am 85,
- and I know that I am dying …”

Finally, I found British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens who gave the question the sort of gravity I was looking for. This is from his book, Hitch-22: A Memoir - the one he wrote while he knew he was dying. Beware, it is the final sentence, below, that stabs at the heart.

“If you were offered the chance to live your own life again, would you seize the opportunity?

“The only real philosophical answer is automatically self-contradictory: 'Only if I did not know that I was doing so.' To go through the entire experience once more would be banal and Sisyphean - even if it did build muscle - whereas to wish to be young again and to have the benefit of one's learned and acquired existence is not at all to wish for a repeat performance, or a Groundhog Day.

“And the mind ought to, but cannot, set some limits to wish-thinking. All right, same me but with more money, an even sturdier penis, slightly different parents, a briefer latency period - the thing is absurd.

“I seriously would like to know what it was to be a woman, but like blind Tiresias would also want the option of re-metamorphosing if I wished. How terrible it is that we have so many more desires than opportunities.”


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Memories of My Son


What a wonderful piece, Ronni (more so than usual, I mean!). I've asked myself this same question many, many times and I do think that the younger you start asking and thinking seriously about it the better. I can't change what has already gone before, but I have made some changes going forward - for instance, there is only one correct answer to "should I vacuum the house or should I read my book in my sunny garden?" At least, going forward, I can decide that one and anything similar correctly ;) Sending much love to you and Ollie.

I would have been less chaste.

A lot less chaste.

My entire life has been spent with the sole aim "to have fun"! Luckily most of the things other people consider work, I consider fun. At 85 looking back I have spent and still am spending a very productive life. Live it again? No way! Way too much of just about everything. Still love all the ones I did and do and they still love me.
How fortunate can you get?

Don't look back.

It seems odd since I'm a Texas writer, but my one wish would be to have ended up in New York City.

But don't look back.

Oh, do you think we have more desires than opportunities? I think having a desire means opening the door and creating an opportunity! It may not succeed, but the life worth living is that "leap of faith" and the attempt.

Lovely post, thank you.

"I’ll be less hygienic"

I might have developed better oral hygiene for the sake of my teeth today. ;-)

A wonderful article Ronni with much food for thought.

There are a million or two things I would change about the life I have lived if it were possible. I won't even attempt to start such a lengthy list. I believe I could have done so much better than I did in all areas of life but to do better requires that I recall all that I did wrong first and that would be agony. I doubt I could bear it.

WOW. I ask myself this question all the time. Regrets. Mistakes. Wishing I could go back and have a re-do. Now I am trying to think about how I can move forward with my mistakes and regrets; to learn to let go and forgive and learn. What can I do from here on out, for the rest of my life, one day at a time, to make it better and not live the rest of my life with more regret. Thanks for sharing this today.

Love more - especially myself and my life. Now, I know this is MY time on life - mistakes and lost opportunities are over. I went into myself, alone, with "help" sometimes, to get over earlier fears I had within that kept me from taking risks, trusting.
Sometimes you just gotta jump when it feels so right and you're scared so much.

There are many things I would change if I could. But who knows what one's life would have been like had I done so. Maybe it would have turned out differently and maybe not.

I'm having enough trouble trying to 'get it right' now without thinking about the past.

It's a hot, sticky day and it is too uncomfortable for such deep thinking. Maybe tomorrow I will list my regrets vs my accomplishments. At this moment I am just happy that I was able to live a life and am still doing so.

The things I really regret and probably should have done differently would then change what is my "now" drastically. Some of my most loved joys wouldn't exist.

There are many things I would change if I could. Too many to write about here. But if I could sum it all up, I'd say that I wish I hadn't given in to fear so often. It stood between me and some of my fondest dreams.

I have so many regrets, things I wish I hadn't done or had done differently. And yet they all led me to where I am today, and there's not much I'd change now.

Given the same shy, introverted, sensitive personality and the same upbringing, I doubt a second life would turn out much differently. Sure, I wish I were less shy, less timid in my approach to just about everything, but then I wouldn't be me, would I?

Wanted to mention, as it is somewhat relevant and coincidental, that I'm in the middle of re-reading "Corrections" by J. Franzen - v.g. novel (about how we often spend our lives correcting, often unconsciously; and doing that, we need a right/wrong mentality. It's personal, humorous, thought-provoking and I'm taking my time this time and learning more, including compassion and understanding of myself & others.

I'd ask more questions.

I believe this is a quote (maybe paraphrased) from Maya Angelou via Oprah "I did what I knew how to do--when I knew better, I did better." I and my 80+-year-old friends remind each other of that if we get into talking or writing about regrets. Most of my major joys and passions came out of what were initially tragedies, so how can I regret them?

Love this poem
and must copy.
Some things, I would do differently
but then I would have not
learned life lessons I have learned and still learning
in these late 70 years.
One big one, married young
and followed passion instead of good sense. But most of love is blind. 4 wonderful children and now grandchildren
came from this union.
So how could I have done this
No way - this was a part of my life journey and continued learning process.

I started reading this post & wondered if I should continue, this being a nice, cool day - a very rare thing in Nebraska this time of year - that has yet to be marred by badness of any kind. Mentally I braced myself for the ensuing sadness I would feel after reading this subject, but Christopher Hitchen's post gave me relief.
Personally, I would have done a lot more of what I did do.

Would have gone to Haight-Ashbury the Summer of Love, 1967. Would have gone to Woodstock... Would have participated in The March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in person...

Would not have had children.

I've been pondering this topic for the last few hours since reading it because my first reaction was that I wouldn't have married for the second time. Then I had to sift through the possibilities of how things could have been different had I not.

Of course, I can't know but I doubt that on my own I would have learned so much about my dark side, my mad bits and the angry, tense me in my mid 30s to early 50s. I hope that I was able to address these and heal without that being at someone else's expense.

So, no, on reflection I wouldn't do it differently. I am the more balanced, self-aware person that I have been for the last 20 years because of the experience of that second marriage.

I appreciate that you have shared your contemplation.

If I could live life over again there are some things I would definitely do differently. I would cast fear aside and do it anyway far more often. I would accept more opportunities that came my way. I would pay more attention and learn more about myself much earlier. I'm doing all those things now at 61.

Class of 65, I'd go with you to all those places, and I'd learn to play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, build an eco-friendly two person home by a lake, from the foundation up, have two cats, write, read to my heart's content, travel with a backpack, interview seniors, play my traveling piano in small clubs, places like NY City, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal.

I'd bring the cats along. They would sit on my piano, like bookends.

My husband would be my partner in all these scenarios. We enjoy similar things.

Only wish we had met sooner, like back in the 60's when he was a rock singer in Montreal and rode a motorcycle.

Back then, I was a secretary, 9 to 5 typing. Tap tap tap, zing, tap tap.


Fascinating post and certainly something that I've thought about a lot. I would wish that the opportunities that I worked for would have worked, that the doors that I pounded on so hard would have opened, that I would have been even a little bit luckier.

I'd worry less. It seems the things I worried about ceaselessly, never happened. And things I never gave a second thought as a probability, did indeed happen.

One aspect of writing fiction is that I feel I've lived more lives than most people ever get a chance to: living my characters' lives via imagination and empathy has enhanced my own greatly. And that I wouldn't change.

Simple: I would not have an abortion. I'd be a mother. I'd know my son.

That's the only thing I would change, except of course it would have unimaginably changed everything else from age 36 on.

Wish I'd been braver.

Along with Celia - I would have asked more questions! I spent my younger years immersed in books - asking no questions - going along with what was expected of me - I've had a wonderful life but it took me to my mid thirties to begin to understand who I was and what I could do! By that time I had six children - slow learner? So in the second half of my life I've asked loads of questions and really researched "old age" so that I have a much better understanding of what to expect and how to make it the best old age I can!

One thing I've noticed is that if I don't respond to a TGB post the same day it comes out, I've pretty much missed the boat, which happens fairly often because life gets in the way, but here's a brief comment anyway.

My life so far is divided into two sharply divergent segments. The first 35+ years were more or less frittered away competing for "Party Girl of the Year". I regret the waste of those prime productive years and the opportunities I missed. The past 38 years have been lived with purpose, meaning and love. About 13 years ago I experienced a professional disappointment of my own making; I regret that. Would I live my life over again? The latter part, absolutely yes, except for the getting old part!

Very thought provoking post. The question is about the life we lived AFTER we had the independence to make our own decisions. We are born in a place and time that limits how we start our lives. Born in the same place and time, I would not be able to make the changes I would wish now -- a much better education. It was not available and the ability to choose continued education after college was possible, theoretically, but, in fact, not a choice. I married and had kids and do not regret either ... oh, but how my life might have been different if I had the idea of a career as young women have today!! So much has changed but young people are still shaped by the time and place of birth. We are lucky in the US, compared to so much of the rest of the world.

When I was growing up I was entirely reactive. We lived in what appeared to be an idyllic home which was, in fact, a stage set laboriously created to demonstrate that we were full-fledged, together, Archie Andrews / Veronica and Betty Americans. However, the truth was that having survived the terrors of numerous pogroms and a perilous flight to this country, although my Mother and my Father’s parents never spoke of the past, wanting only to put it behind them, they somehow managed to convey that terror was the underlying factor in our lives. I did not realize that I was safe and able to think for myself until I was well into my fifties. In my sixties I began to experiment with decision-making. Now in my seventies, I am proud to say that I am fully able to think ahead and be proactive even though it is usually with great effort. It is an exciting place to be and I do not understand why God finds it necessary to put us on this obstacle course in life. But I do believe that life is a journey not a destination. I wish I had come to this place years ago, but I didn’t. However, I am here now and I try to remember to stop, that I am wise, and that I am fortunate to have come to a magical place of active awareness.

I would tell Linda Davis I fell in love with her the instant we met. It was my baggage that was our problem.

I'm sure I speak for many men: I should've used a rubber.

i would have gone into law, been nominated tot he supreme court, and been the deciding vote in favor of gore in bush v gore. that alone would have guaranteed me immortality.

I SO needed to read this today, as well as comment on this, as it has been something I have been thinking about pretty much about in my adult years, especially the last few days.

I guess I believe in Karma a great deal. If I had changed my life in new directions, which did not work out,or my heart was really not in it, it proved to be a good choice in so many ways, with so many lessons. I do wish though, that at times I could speak in my younger years of what I know in such older years.

I loved your poem as well. I made me think of a very special poem that is short but on the same page, so to speak.

My Most Passionate Wish

If at this moment
There could be granted
My most passionate wish,
What would it be?
Love? Wealth, health?
It would be
To know I was confirmed
Acknowledged as worthy
In the human chain
Because of having deserved it -
To have lived
Yet to be
To die with the honor
I earned it.
October 1985 @Addie W. William

I wouldn't have taken him back after his affair seven years into our relationship. Because, wouldn't you know it, he got caught at the 25-year mark. Ain't gonna happen again.

If I could live my life again, I would have had the affair with a married man that I passed up because it was too risky. Alas, he turned out to be my only true love & he lives on in my dreams. I am thinking the affair would have been the best thing that ever happened to me...or it would have cleared him out of my head & heart. I shall never know. Too late, too late.

More sex - a LOT more sex.

Wow...regrets...yes many. A few would have been gone to college, been more understanding of why my husband was the way he was. Maybe had a child. But then all other choices would have probably created different regrets. It's part of life I suppose. I, for one, would not redo it unless I could change my own actions and reactions... but then I'd have to be aware of the past and losing a husband to a horrible cancer, I could not redo.

Live my life over?
Only if I could hold thr wisdom gathered in living this one.

To use that wisdom to recognize the choices & choose more wisely.

I want to have the best parts saved & the ability to change the parts that hurt myself & thoe I loved.

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