What have you done?

The question, “What have you done?” is not uncommonly posed in a variety of situations which strangely have nothing to do with one another.  It is a question of wide usage with unrelated purpose. For example in its simplest format it may be an untainted question of fact. Or, what is more frequent, it may be a pernicious suggestion that what you have accomplished is not without a degree of ambivalence surrounding the tale of adventure. Or, it may not be a question at all, rather a bland signal that what you have done is preposterous (more an exclamation than an interrogation). Or – and this is where I have an especial interest – it is an enquiry into how (if at all) you have succeeded to unwind your life. It’s a general look at what, in my case, I’ve spent the past 75 years doing amidst the pitfalls and highlights.

I think you’ll agree that what I’m exploring in this puzzling pursuit is more than an itemized list of performances. My interest isn’t whether one played hockey or football, did well or not at school, became boss or worked in an organization, married, had children and practiced a religion, went to concerts and museums or baseball games, or whether one is rich or famous, sailing on a yacht or puttering about in a Smart car. Those are distinctions of detail only. My atmospheric inquisition of this overall background is really asking, “So how did that work out?”

To begin I must first acknowledge that the investigation is perhaps as natural as anything else in which I’ve ever engaged.  That is, it is not entirely weird that after having lived three-quarters a century, one is prompted to look back and assess. Clearly the scope for alteration or improvement at this stage is limited. It’s basically a downhill synopsis from here.  And not insignificantly we never know when we’re scheduled to hit bottom! Not that this is like making your bed or cleaning your room before departure.  It is not that mechanical or rudimentary. But for those of us who spend our days animating our mind and imagination through the stimuli of literature, art, photography, nature and the like (dare I mention the automotive ingredient or butter tarts), the matter of what one has done is not completely without its relevance. No doubt a good deal of the spirit neighbouring the query arises from the confession, “Time passes by so quickly!”  In that respect the question, “What have you done?” proves to be more a jab in the side. It can be a crushing defeat. Suddenly an innocent vital inquiry has turned into a mournful funeral dirge.

A corollary to the question (assuming you have even sought to answer it) is, “What would you do differently?” That’s an equally weighty inquest!  First, if there were indeed things you’d do differently, then what is the import of that conclusion?  I would think foremost it is irrelevant; I have never imagined I could change the past. If then, its utility is thus hindered, I am left to wonder why we’d ask the question in the first place. Remorsefulness is hardly a celebrated ambition.

Perhaps the question about our past should be regarded with the same distance and reserve that we watch other creatures on this planet perform their daily anticipated absorptions. I realize that by saying that, I am attributing to humanity the inherent (inborn and structural) fulfillment of private and personal ambitions. At the same time, like any other species, we humans have our similarities.  Predominantly our expression of those traits is familiar as well. Occasionally there are those among us who blossom extraordinarily. Otherwise I am inclined to believe we are predominantly responding to external indicia by mere instinct. This is both complimentary and matter-of-fact; though it is by any account a small compliment.

What has arisen from this convoluted fractionation is the overwhelming clarity regarding the magnificence of life. To be clear, I am satisfied that in spite of what I may or may not have done, things worked out alright. This abrupt summary to the huge philosophic enquiry “What have you done?” is that what is done, is done and cannot be undone; that the birds still fly and the dandelions bloom; that the river flows as it should. If I persist in the fiction that I had anything to do with this (other than what I was born with) I am no doubt extending the gratitude less than impartially. Certainly I feel that I behaved with more than the inscribed mechanics of a bee or a mouse, but honestly the rest was pretty much biological.