As we international students know all too well, our time at any location is a sweet bomb. A ticking time-bomb that can go off at any second and destroy all you care about, demolishing hopes, dreams and aims. But also sweet, because you experience wonders first hand — subtle things that are easy to be callous of.
My bomb recently warned me of an incoming detonation.
When I found out that I was moving, it cracked me. There really is no other way of explaining it. I had always known that my time was running out, but I had pushed that thought away and enjoyed ignorance. But hearing that news really was a shock. It is amazing that things that are known to be inevitable can be the most shocking as well.
I felt like a dead-man walking at school. I looked at my friends, greeted teachers, and walked to and from class — but it all felt like a big fat lie. I was leaving, so why did I care about any of this? No, not why — how can I go on caring so deeply for something that I know will end in a month? What I had worked towards seemed to end in vain, as relationships I had made, work that was underway — everything just fell apart and all that remained was rubble I had thought to be gold.
Acres of regret sprang up in me. If only I had one more year, then things would have worked out so nicely; if only I had gotten to know that person better; if only I had worked harder in that class. If only…
I could have played less that night before the test. I could have been more active in the ASB.
It was dumbfounding that I could have such feelings about things I also felt didn’t matter — at the same time.
What really broke my heart was people. I’m the person who stopped watching most TV series because I would get too attached to the characters (I realized that when I cared more about what would happen in the next episode than for people who were living in hardship in front of my eyes). What then of my heart’s condition towards real people?
My dad asked me whether I was okay with it — and for a some time I really wasn’t. But I knew I would have to accept it and so I told him that I was. And I was — the rational part of me anyway. But the much bigger heart-driven part of me was broken.
All the above is in past tense, as after that I realized — this whole experience is exactly like death.
If a person had been warned ahead of time you will die 2 months from now — how would they feel?
That arguing about Starbucks vs. Costa Coffee is revoltingly pointless? That no argument is worth treating someone badly? That the things the person had ignored were actually worthwhile — and the things given time and energy were utterly pointless now, on the way to the grave?
And this is the wide road that leads straight into regret. The regret of having killed away all the life one had, and missing the things that would have actually led to betterment. It is a feeling beyond any words, and that is not a phrase used lightly. The feeling of a weight immeasurable and overwhelming - of what could have been - is agonizing.
The closest description for it was written by Seneca1:
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.
I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small.” For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.
Vices beset us and surround us on every side, and they do not permit us to rise anew and lift up our eyes for the discernment of truth, but they keep us down when once they have overwhelmed us and we are chained to lust. Their victims are never allowed to return to their true selves; if ever they chance to find some release, like the waters of the deep sea which continue to heave even after the storm is past, they are tossed about and no rest from their lusts abides.
If that does not shake us, we are lost.