A Catholic Monthly Magazine

If Only I Could Stop Saying “If Only”

SCENE: Cold, late winter’s day, blue sky and sunshine. Older man sits alone at desk pondering. What can I write about? What can I say that will strike a chord? Wish I didn’t have to struggle for ideas. Wish I was smarter. Wish they would find a cure for baldness. Wish I could earn some money. Wish my wife would ask me to come back. Aha, I know what to write about.

DO YOU know many people – do you know any people – who can look back on their life and say ‘If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same’?

I have read of people who fall into this category and I know several good people who would come close. I regret to admit that I wouldn’t even rank, so many are my regrets. And now for the good news: the past three years have been the worst of my life and they have been the best of my life; you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. Some time ago I went to confession, or reconciliation, for the first time in several years. There was a time, decades ago, when I went at least weekly. I struggled this time because, although there were a couple of glaring sins to confess, I could not think of much else – a sin of pride perhaps? And then it struck me: Envy. How often had I fallen victim to this insidious disease. As I sit here musing, it strikes me that envy has been the root of much of my unhappiness and consequently has caused much unhappiness to those around me, but especially and ashamedly, my wife. I wonder whether envy isn’t the cause of almost all ills in the world?

But let’s stay closer to home. For me, I can look back and remember thinking, if only. If only I was as smart as X; if only I had a house like Y; if only my wife would be like Z’s wife; if only I had the confidence of A; if only I could be as contented as B; if only God could have given me the willpower of C; and so on, and so on Some of you may have been sufficiently blessed to rarely experience envy. I envy you. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.) But in truth I do know quite a few people who seem to be gloriously contented with their lot even though their lot might appear very ordinary indeed. I am not suggesting they would say their lives are perfect, I am saying that there is a graciousness about them, an aura almost, that says life, appearance to the contrary sometimes, is almost always beautiful.

I would change much in my life if given the chance to start over. But who says you have to start at the beginning? What about the middle? What about the other side of the middle? What about the end? I can’t recall God ever saying that there was a cut-off time. On the contrary, I think he said, come as you are – and that means, well, I believe it does, come as you are right now.

I mentioned some months ago in these columns that a few years ago I had the good fortune to realise that now – irrespective of when “now” happened to be – was the right time to make a change for the better. In other words, I stopped living in regret, stopped saying I wish I had learnt this lesson years ago; that I wish I had become the person I now am years ago.

Instead, I said to myself, thank God I am learning this now and not in five or ten years’ time.

So I have been working to rid myself of envy. It’s often very difficult especially as it can sneak up on me and it’s not till I am well and truly in its web that I realise what is going on. No matter, once I am aware I can take up the fight.

Paradoxically, perhaps, sometimes fighting envy can best be achieved by turning my back and running away, by refusing to dance with envy, by refusing to flirt.

By getting on with my life and not someone else’s .

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