|Right and Wrong|
They say that those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Personally, I have had more than my share of past situations that I would very much like not to repeat if at all possible, which is probably why I spend so much time, in the aftermath of something that has gone horribly wrong, doing my best to confront, review and thoroughly study its history in hopes of learning whatever it is that will protect me from ever having to go through it again. If what they say is true, all I need to do is carry those lessons around like snapshots, or mugshots, and whenever I am about to make a decision to go ahead or run like hell, I can pull them out, hold them up, and if anything matches, choose that second option without doubt, hesitation or remorse.
We all know how it feels to find ourselves suddenly in the middle of something that has gone horribly wrong, whether it is a job, a relationship, a living space, an activity or item acquired or pursued with a considerable expenditure of good faith, time, effort or material resources. You do your best to get over the shock of yet another failed enterprise, make changes in attitude or behavior, and if you have been down this road as many times as I have, once an acceptable amount of wallowing in self-pity and giving things a second and third chance, and weighing the good and bad to be had in staying or going has happened, start creating a ruthlessly practical exit strategy.
The nice thing about an exit strategy is that during the period when you could be either talking yourself out of leaving a bad situation or beating yourself up because you can’t catch a break in life, you can instead apply your mental and physical energies to things like looking for a new job, or packing up your belongings, or coming up with a new budget, or investigating new endeavors and places in which to do them. It also protects you, during that transition time when you are literally neither here nor there, from feeling the full impact of exactly how horribly wrong the things you are not quite free of yet have gone.
It is a facet of human nature that, (gloomy malcontents who thrive on seeing and perpetuating only the negative regardless of how good things are aside), most of us try to see the good, or refuse to see the bad in a situation clearly disintegrating before our eyes, whether out of optimism, denial, pride or a sense of survival. It is only once we have cut ties and know we are soon to be released that the true extent of the wrongness becomes clear. And once we are indeed completely free and no longer need to protect ourselves, we discover that this clarity increases with the amount of time and distance we put between ourselves and the wrongness. Soon we have to ask ourselves why we tolerated something so clearly wrong for so long? When did it go wrong and how can we recognize and act upon that kind of moment sooner and spare ourselves so much grief? And then, how can we keep ourselves from getting into it in the first place so we won’t have to spend seemingly more time in life getting out of the wrong things than enjoying the right things?
I have had jobs, relationships, living spaces and all manner of pursuits go horribly wrong, and every time I have looked back and wondered if I could have done something differently, seen the signs sooner, not just to spare myself future grief, but to keep myself from coming to the tempting conclusion that I have not learned a thing in all my years and all my past studies, and remain the worst judge of character, situations and circumstances on the planet, and given my dismal track record am really no better off than the dangerously thoughtless heartless hapless people who bulldoze through life lacking all self and other awareness and to whom I have no right to consider myself superior.
I know this is not true. But what can I tell my friends and family when I have to report another thing begun feeling so right and yet gone horribly wrong, and more importantly, what do I tell myself? Was I blind, or too optimistic and patient, making excuses for every sign that I can now see was there right in front of me? Was I tired of creating exit strategies and hoping I could ride this one out? Was I ashamed of the explanations I would have to make to family and friends and preferred to suffer a private hell than admit to it? The problem with explaining to friends and family what has gone horribly wrong is that if you are honest about exactly how bad it is you look like an idiot or a masochist for getting yourself into and remaining for so long in such a situation, and if you lie about the severity of your suffering, you look like a self-limiting perfectionist or an outright flake for jumping ship at the first sign of what sounds like minor trouble. To get at anything close to the full truth, you have to commit to a lengthy philosophical presentation, when all anyone requires is the quick and easy version of the story.
So here I am now, free of all the recent wrong things I have had to separate myself from, starting all over again. I am unemployed, single, and living alone in a new apartment in a city, and with acquaintances, I have not known very long, and while I am looking forward to all the new things that are going to come into my life, I am also looking for where, when and how the signs of things going wrong will start to appear, wondering whether I will recognize and act on them sooner rather than later, wiser for my studies of the past, or whether these signs are not always so obvious, not always a matter of wise recognition and decisive action, but plain old dumb luck, the sad fact being that even the best persons places and things change over time in ways you could not have seen because they simply were not yet present or revealed to you.
And that is the quick and easy story I am telling myself and anyone who asks about my last job, and my last relationship, and why I am back at square one in middle age, and how things that start out so right can go so horribly wrong. And in the end, there really are no good, full or right answers. Whatever I have learned, whatever I encounter in life, I am still far more likely to go ahead than run like hell. But I have a traveling bag full of snapshots, and a process of elimination is in motion. If I can keep surviving, identifying, and subsequently avoiding the wrong, whatever is left has to be right.