Two English friends were discussing a mutual friend who recently passed away. One of my friends said “I am so sorry that I missed my chance of seeing her again and now it is too late.” I knew exactly what she meant, as it has also happened to me. Death leaves you with a helpless feeling of missed opportunities.
When my husband died, a friend quoted the expression: “tomorrow is promised to no one,” and I often reflect on the different meanings of this saying. I also ask myself why it is that so many insights concerning our fate are formulated in expressions, idioms and cliches: “Carpe diem,” for example, is an empowering way of saying that you may not live to see tomorrow.
Since “an opportunity missed is an opportunity lost,” when a tragedy occurs we often make resolutions on “how to make every moment count,” and how we should lead our life while we can still “wake up and smell the coffee.”
But as it is a heavy burden to “live every day like it is our last,” we often go back to the way we were before calamity struck. From my personal experience and from talking to other widows, I feel that disasters could be an opportunity to re-examine beliefs, attitudes and positions which are no longer relevant, and to make changes: “When life gives you lemons make lemonade”
The concept of making changes, makes me think of Stevens, the protagonist and narrator of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a novel about passivity and resignation which lead to missed opportunities and regrets. Stevens, the head butler at Darlington Hall, is a man whose inner self is clogged up with irrelevant beliefs, attitudes and positions.
Here are two examples:
“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one's life took?”
“In any case, while it is all very well to talk of 'turning points', one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect.”
Stevens' worldview results in paralysis. Luckily we often do recognize our “turning points” in time, and are able to regain control, take action and make changes in our life.
Perhaps the answer to my question about overuse of cliches is that they comfort us and help us brave "what is waiting for us around the corner.” Moreover, those expressions emphasizes that we all "are in the same boat."
So while sailing, next time “when life deals us a tough blow” let’s make a large glass of lemonade, toast it and “seize the day!”