by Jeff Katowitz, LMFT
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
― Søren Kierkegaard
― Søren Kierkegaard
Driving up through upstate New York, it is an all too familiar routine over the course of the last three years. Wait…my son is a junior in college? It can’t be. What is going on? Last week, I accompanied my younger son on a flight out west as he narrows in on – with great anticipation – his university of choice. Let’s backtrack for a moment – I’m not sure I can wrap my head around all of these moving parts. These thoughts seem to be racing endlessly. How is it that at one moment I can be examining and collaborating with my son on a potential pathway, choosing institutions to study and explore and prepare for “real” life (whatever that means) and then, in a seeming blink, we are here?
I load up a Uhaul trailer, packing what I calculate to be twice as much stuff as what I lugged back and forth in my college days. And I thought I had a lot. It is winter. My son is ready to travel and study abroad for the spring semester. I can remember in my high school and college days pondering what it would be like to be carried away to some foreign land. No – too scary for me back then. I wanted to remain on campus and maintain my commitment to my familiar routines; that’s just what felt right.
I keep thinking about time and drawing comparisons between my life in my early twenties and what lies ahead for my sons. So many moments, achievements, heartbreaks, fears, and anticipations. Round and around and around I go: I did this, he’s doing that, how interesting, exciting. Brings a grin to my face, time and time again. I am finding myself discussing with my family, clients and sometimes acquaintances this movement through time and space, but it is more about looking back and reflecting.
Reflecting really sets into motion a thought process and taps into a well of curiosity. I am aware of times in the past when I may have gotten lost in the regret trap – the “should have”, “would have,” “could have,” “I haven’t.” Fortunately for me lately, I don’t find myself trapped anywhere near regret. Instead, I am energized and moved by the experience of what I’d have to call amazement.
My amazement springs from the wide-angle lens I have now on my life, a vantage point that only decades of life can bring. From this perspective, I can examine what is in my immediate purview and from there introduce curiosity about the wider context, the patterns and sequences. Life becomes a puzzle through this lens. Life is always taking shape but also evolving into new happenings and adventures – consisting of random people, places, events, and choices that led us here. And the new experiences and choices that will lead us an unknown there in the future.
The rate of events that come and go like scenes in a play are read at a very high pace. It’s hard to digest – significant experiences come and go so rapidly that I am trying to catch my breath. But I am not pushing against it; rather, I am speechless and almost awestruck. The passing of time never felt this way when I was in my youth; then, it felt more like a looking forward to the next chapter. Now I am hoping the next chapters are read slower, so I can really capture the essence of what was just experienced.
I imagine, for some people, the process of reflection may trigger sadness or a cycle of regret and emotions surrounding choices that they have made. I empathize with this group and the experience of pain that can arise. As we embark on a new year, I invite you to consider a process of reflection with openness and curiosity (rather than an old pattern of sadness or regret). Consider the question, “How did my journey lead me to this moment?” And then join me in anticipating with great interest and awareness the “What is next?” of life.
Jeff Katowitz, LMFT has been practicing marriage and family therapy for over 26 years. His specialties include helping families in transition (i.e. separation and divorce, grief and loss, blended families, raising children on the spectrum and those with special needs). He has been practicing at the Resiliency Center since 2008. Jeff can be contacted at JeffKatowitzlmft@gmail.com or directly at (215) 307-0055.