"I want a different story!" "No! This is the story that you get!" - Jacob Tremblay & Brie Larson as Jack & Joy Newsome, Room
I've spent a lot of time this year thinking about regret. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't have any regrets about their life at all, but I've met a stunning number of folks who look back at their lives more than they look ahead. Their fascination with hindsight borders on obsession and they dwell in the house of "What if?" forever.
I know folks who regret their professions, their marriages - even their children. "If only I could go back and tell my younger self..."
Yeah, but you can't. If time travel were possible, SOMEBODY would have come back to put a stop to wide-legged pants, the Macarena, and the entire election cycle of 2016.
I watched Room for the first time last night and, even though I'd read the book & knew what to expect, it still overwhelmed me. I don't think there's a moment of that film that isn't seared into my brain, but the piece of dialogue I'm quoting here is what resonated with me the most. There are certainly elements of regret within the film, most notably when the character Joy gets into an argument with her mother and we realize, suddenly and for the first time, how she has lived with the regret of helping a stranger with what she thought was a sick dog. That simple act led to her abduction and seven years of captivity.
Few of us will ever go through something that traumatic, but we all seem to live with some degree of regret and a wish for a "do over." That, to me, is what Jack's line is all about: "I want a different story!" he tells his mom as she's describing her abduction. And we've all been Jack, at some point: when we lose a job, or a lover, or a loved one. Or a dream. We don't want that loss to be part of our story.
And there is Life, represented by Jack's mother, Joy: "No! This is the story that you get!" In other words, stop spending so much time wishing things were different, or that you had done things differently in the past. The job is gone. The love affair has ended. The dead have been buried. The dream has been deferred. Yet the story goes on.
And this is the story that you get, so stop screaming that you want a different story and just write a new chapter for this one. Come up with your own plot twist. Face down your antagonist - even if it's only yourself - and resolve the conflict that's complicating your story. It won't be as easy or as fast as the solutions film characters tend to create, but isn't shit easier to tolerate if you know you're digging your way out of it? It's easier to be nice to the co-workers you don't like when you're serving out your two weeks' notice. It's easier to heal from heartbreak when their snoring isn't waking you up and money isn't disappearing from your wallet. It's easier to give up on your dream of being a ballerina when you realize you don't really like ballet.
Stop looking back at the path not taken and start looking ahead before you walk into a situation that leads you into seven years of hell. Think more deeply about the choices you're making now than anything that happened in your past. Recognize what you're been through and how it's changed you - absolutely! - but then put it away and step forward into the light.