Wistful: having or showing a feeling of vague or regretful longing
When I picture the word wistful, I think of nostalgia — staring into the sky and wishing for the past. I once posted that I am an old soul, but today’s topic is different. Wistful conjures more emotions, a gravitational pull or force towards something you wish you had, or perhaps once had and unfortunately lost. It reminds me of a Japanese word I came across and literally makes you feel the emotion when you pronounce it.
I am wistful over many things… memories of a happy time with people I am no longer close to or who have passed on… the innocence of being a child or not feeling the burden of worry and necessary tasks… different choices I could have made in life, wondering what could have been.
We all have these moments, sometimes it is fleeting, but others it is a significant portion of our day, consuming our thoughts until we feel feverishly impacted. For most of us, it is easy to control; we allow ourselves a few minutes to dip into the past and question “what could have been.” For some, they are caught up in an inability to accept what has happened and cannot function with where they ended up.
When I allow melancholy and a wistful moment to blossom, I often remember the decisions I made in life, thinking about the alternate options and if would I feel any differently than I do today. What if I:
- Finished obtaining certification to become a teacher?
- Stayed in California?
- Began writing books when I was younger?
- Had children?
The list could go on and on… not quite regrets, not quite desires… somewhere in the middle, showing me an alternate life. Wistful because I could see the beauty and growth of students learning and obtaining a good education…. because I may have moved up the corporate ladder even more quickly… because I may have been published at an earlier age… because I wouldn’t feel too old to consider starting parenting now.
When I get wistful, I often stare blindly at some object. Never anything beautiful or fanciful that would distract me. I’m not looking into an elaborate forest and wondering, or smiling at a opening flower. I’m looking at a blank wall or the corner of a floor, or even into the darkness, as I fall asleep in my bed.
To some, this may sound sad and overwhelming. To me, it is a way of challenging myself to always wonder about the alternative choices and options. A way of pushing myself to never give up. An opportunity for change, if I ever really want it.
I could return to school to finish getting that teaching degree. I could move back to California and push harder. I can’t change when my first book is published, but I can make it a larger focus to publish more. And I can still have children, as I’m really still rather young. But are these truly desires or just wistful moments to help me feel connected to decisions I’ve previously made, but possibly still contemplating?
I’m not being philosophical. I’m not playing Hamlet. I’m not even channeling my inner Freud. I’m allowing myself a healthy wonder to materialize from time to time, balancing the ability to feel the emotions (regret, sympathy, fear, happiness, acceptance) with the choices we make upon each split in the road of our lives.
But in those wistful moments, picturing the alternatives, focusing on the memories, breathing in the smells, hearing the sounds, sensing the past… it’s a rather calming sensation for me, even when I realize I might have made a different choice, knowing what I know now. But I wouldn’t change it. Not from fear. Not from religion or science. But because I cannot change it and see no reason to get caught up in thinking about it with too much deep concern.
Just enough to keep me always realizing each day is an accepted step, building towards a determined path, culminating in a unique journey that I claim as my own. But during that journey, it’s always valuable to remember playing a board game with my godmother who passed away from cancer, writing letters to a grandmother who felt lonely, and standing in field convincing myself to always let my words be the most powerful thing about me. And if a tear rumbles down my cheek, or a crack in my voice surfaces, or even a nervous giggle and a coy smile… it will always be worth it — to be wistful in that moment.