“We share our lives with the people we have failed to be.” Adam Phillips: Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life There is always what will turn out to be the life we led, and the life that accompanied it, the parallel life that never actually happened, that we lived in our minds, the wished-for life (or lives):the risks untaken and the opportunities avoided or unprovided. We refer to them as our unlived lives because somewhere we believe that they were open to us; but for some reason–and we might spend a great deal of our lived lives trying to find the reason–they were not possible. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives. Indeed, our lived lives might become a mourning, a tantrum, the lives we were unable to live. But what we missed and suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are. As we know more now than ever before about the kinds of lives it is possible to live–and affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options–we are haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do. Often in “The ways we miss our lives,” we are grieving or regretting or resenting our failure to be ourselves as we imagine we could be.
…the roads untraveled, what we missed, our human identity as a constant looking back upon the lives we have chosen not to live–or the lives that we have failed to live–or the lives that, much to our frustration, have always eluded us.
We are as much a measure of the selves we aren’t as the self we happen to be facing in the mirror today. What about the one we used to love, or the one we picture ourselves loving someday? What about the job we longed for and never got? Or the job we got, but it could be in ten years? As photographer Jimmy Nelson reports, “The purity of humanity exists. It is there in the mountains, the ice fields, the jungle, along the rivers and in the valleys… the world must never forget the way things were.” These are the lives we are.