Regrets and Sliding Doors
As Gwyneth Paltrow said in Sliding Doors:
If I had just caught that bloody train it would never have happened
I often find myself thinking in similar ways, thinking about how things could have been, and wishing this or that had happened differently. Losing my faith after pretty much a lifetime of believing has that effect. Not so much because I used to lean on God as a support I no longer have, but because I’ve lived my life according to beliefs that I’ve now discarded, and that change sends tiny ripples across my entire history, affecting how I relate to it and how I feel about it.
There are obvious things I’d like to have done differently – I wish I’d got out and done something more interesting than wasting my youth in a tedious, stuffy rural church; I wish I’d spent more time studying, instead of getting deeply involved with the Christian Union at university; I wish I’d avoided getting sucked into beliefs that were and are painful and difficult to escape from.
But conversely, however much I wish it had never happened, I can’t leave it behind. I have a huge number of friends from these sources, and as far as I’m concerned, they remain my friends, even if I think they’re mistaken about the thing that initially brought us together. And for all my regrets, wishing things had been different won’t change anything – I’ve still spent the Sundays of my life in church, rather than playing football or cricket. I still have to live with the degree I know should have been better – would have been better – if only I’d spent less time cultivating a belief I now consider deluded.
Then there are the things that tear me in half. I have some very happy memories which are now slightly tarnished by association with beliefs I find unsettling or damaging. And I’ll be honest – it’s very hard not to look back wistfully at the sexual encounters I could have had over the years, had things been different. But at the same time, I don’t know whether I’d want to change anything. Because, of course, I met my lovely wife through these parts of my life, and I can’t imagine what life would have been like without her. I can’t even seriously imagine wanting to be with anyone else, even though her faith is one of the scariest barriers to me potentially coming out as an atheist.
Finally, there are the things that have happened recently, which I feel uncomfortable about. I’m content – if not exactly happy – for my boys to be christened and brought up within the church, because there’s a tension between my beliefs and my wife’s, there’s a strong cultural element involved, and we’ve settled in a pretty sane, liberalish church. Something has to give where we have different views, and I can provide my own correction to any excesses. But given a completely free choice, I’d rather they had the freedom I would have wanted for myself, and were spared the indoctrination.
That’s both the pain and the joy of where I am right now. There’s so much I’d like to have done differently, but if I had, I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t have my wife and children, and I possibly wouldn’t even be recognisably the same person. The concept behind Sliding Doors, that one event can have far-reaching consequences through your whole life, makes it very hard to make peace with the interwoven “good” and “bad” aspects of my past.
Of course, it’s possible to imagine a potential alternative life, even a much better one, but I’m not sure if I want to, as it would be no more than fantasy, and would hardly help me to deal with the current situation. I somehow have to come to view my past as (to paraphrase Homer Simpson) the cause of, and solution to, all of my problems.