Life can only be understood backwards,
but it must be lived forward
- Soren Kierkegaard
One of the great paradoxes of life is that we live our lives the best we can and yet only when we are further along in life and we look back, can we see our life clearly: the roads not taken ( and those taken), the choices that took us in one direction rather than another. Whether we live our life in a spontaneous manner or a more planned,directed one, it still really can't be understood until we are older and have some perspective. Then we can see our life, as though from an aerial view, its theme, its meaning, its trajectory.
Yet as Kierkegaard says, all we can do is live our lives forward, the best we can, with the information we have at the time, imperfectly pursuing our dreams, desires, and passions in spite of our limitations and fears, and the impact of our health, family history, race, gender, and social class.
What does it mean to live your life forward? How do you do this? How do you decide what's important to you? What is it you seek as you live your life forward? Is it financial and career success and/or satisfaction, happiness (and what does this mean to you?) a partner and/or family, good health, good friendships, social or political activism, travel?
There are so many possibilities that each person chooses or works toward in their own unique way. The infinite permutations of all these possibilities make each life one of a kind!
And how do you deal with getting or in some cases not, all the things you desire? As much as you may try to control your life and life in general, you do not really have complete a say in what happens. Illness, natural disasters,(in)fertility, love appearing or not, staying or not, job(in) security, etc etc. There are so many pieces to the puzzle of life that don't form a coherent narrative, until time has passed and there is space for perspective to look backward and see what your life has been.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley