Having it All (Just Not All at Once)

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

Why is it that I always seem to look at the past through rose-colored glasses?

When the walls of our compact Philly rowhome seem to be closing in on me and I pine for our spacious old house in Alaska, I conveniently forget how much time it took me to keep that house clean, not to mention all the other upkeep it required.

As I drive around my city block for the third time, looking for a parking spot, fantasizing about the luxury of hitting the remote door-opener and pulling into our old garage, I neglect to remember the vast amounts of snow and ice that had to be removed from our driveway each winter so I could access that garage. I forget the rock-hard berm of compacted snow the plow left at the base of the driveway that my husband and I had to hack our way through after every snowfall. I forget the hassle and expense of having my tires swapped twice each year—studs on for winter, off again for summer.

When the neighbor who lives in the rowhome behind mine lets her dogs bark incessantly, just 15 feet from where I’m sitting in my kitchen, while I’m trying to write or pay bills or simply enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, I longingly remember spending peaceful mornings, alone with my thoughts, gazing out at snow-capped mountains. What I don’t choose to remember are Alaskan summer days when my neighbor’s teenaged son’s rock band held practices on their front porch—with amplifiers at full blast aimed directly at my house.

As wonderful as life in Alaska often was, and as stunningly beautiful as it always was, there were plenty of drawbacks to living there. Things like temperatures in the minus 20s and 30s, months of winter darkness and the depression that came with it, icy roads, expensive produce (tomatoes sometimes costing more per pound than steak!), moose that chewed off all my spring flowers as soon as they came up, and having to be on the lookout for bears when taking walks around my neighborhood.

These days when I happily walk down Broad Street to see my daughter, who lives a mere three blocks away, I manage to forget the deep sorrow I felt sending her here to Philly for college while the rest of our family was still in Alaska. I forget the tears I cried knowing that for at least four years we’d be more than 3,000 miles away from her—we wouldn’t be there for parents’ weekends, we wouldn’t be there to celebrate her successes, we wouldn’t be there to comfort her when she was discouraged, and a rare visit with her would mean an expensive plane ticket and a full day of travel.

So, apparently I have a problem with revisionist history—I’m the one revising it!

And I don’t only do this with Alaska versus Philly; I do it with other things too. Such as when I say to myself, “Oh, I wish I could still walk a few quick miles without having to ice my knees afterward.” Or, “Oh, I miss the days when my daughters were young and I got to spend time with them while driving them to music lessons and soccer games.” Or, “Oh, if only I could see my husband happily going off to work in his Air Force flight suit one more time.”

What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just live in the moment . . . gratefully?

I don’t actually think it’s just me. I’m pretty sure most of us do this.

We tend to romanticize what was, and disparage what is.

I think even the ultra-rich and famous—those fortunate few who we tend to think of as “having it all,” experience this too,

. . . because even if you’re lucky enough to have it all, you can’t have all of it at the same time.  

Life progresses in seasons. And the wisest thing we can do is to look for the best in each of those seasons: being thankful for what was, being mindful to enjoy what is, and looking with hope toward what will be.

Sounds like good advice.

Maybe I’ll give it a try.

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