Monday, March 09, 2015

"That Which I Should Have Done...."

I have always been fascinated with Ivan Albrecht’s painting, “That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do”—also known as “The Door,” in Chicago’s Art Institute. For some reason I relate strongly to the title.

It's often far easier to acknowledge the existence of a situation or condition than it is to accept it. And compulsion is rather like trying to force a sheet of metal through a paper shredder. It can't be done, but that doesn't stop someone from trying.

Obsessive and compulsive behavior seems to be a popular theme for "reality" shows of late. Its more extreme forms have their own psychological designation—OCD; Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder; hoarders; people who wash their hands a hundred times or more a day; people who must jiggle a door knob three times before opening it, etc.. We look at these people and shake our heads, wondering whatever possesses them to do these things, and why they can't just, well, stop doing it.

Yet we all know someone who exhibits some milder form of OCD—the compulsively neat, those who insist on ironing their underwear, or who order their sock drawer by color, or who never go shopping without a detailed list. I pride myself on being totally devoid of any of these types of behavior, though there is one small area in which I must confess might be considered by some to be a bit excessive: my excruciating, continual awareness of the passage of time, the aging process that inescapably accompanies it, and my inability to let go of the past or to resist comparing—negatively—who I am now with who I was. And no matter how much I have accomplished, there is the overwhelming feeling that I have not done enough.

I view the aging process with a mixture of total incomprehension and, frankly, something akin to horror. If we want to live, we must age; it's a totally irrefutable fact. That I don't understand, or rather can't accept, why this has to be is a measure of my compulsive refusal to acknowledge or accept reality. 

I'm constantly trying to analyze my actions in light of my aging. I know many if not most of them are based in pure logic, and much of that logic is based on cumulative experience. I frequently regret that I don't laugh nearly as much as I used to. Yet laughter is most commonly founded on the element of surprise, and over the years, experiencing the same or basically the same situation many times, the surprise is dimmed, as is the reaction to it. The hilarity of a wildly popular TV sitcom inevitably dims, the longer it stays on the air. Repetition breeds familiarity, and while familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt, it does breed lack of surprise. And thus it tends to be with life.

As we grow older, we walk more cautiously on ice in winter, not because we couldn't walk more assertively but because we've fallen enough, in the course of the years, not to want to fall again.

Physical changes are simply part of the progression of life. They are inevitable—though some people seem more capable than others in forestalling them—and are the increasingly steep price we must pay for the privilege of living. I acknowledge this fact. Really, I do. But I am, to the depth of my soul, unwilling to accept it, and my failure to do so is my compulsion. I do wish I were able to both acknowledge and accept, as most of the world seems to do so easily. I know acknowledgement and acceptance would save me an incalculable amount of unhappiness and frustration. But I simply cannot.

While I take a certain odd pleasure and even pride in my self delusions, I do not delude myself as to who the winner will be in my compulsive battle against time, aging, and reality. I know who will inevitably win, and that when they do I won't be around to care. But while I'm still here, I'll do my best not to accept those things I want so badly to be different. I know that there are so many many things I should have done that I did not do. But, I keep telling myself—and believing—I could and would, in time.

So, yet again I, an agnostic, turn to the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Well, I'm working on the courage, and I definitely know the difference. But as to the serenity part,.... Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I have not been on the best of terms with mortality as of late. It has robbed me of two close people in my life during the last two years, has its long-terms nails dug into my father, and is taking a good, hard try at a good friend of mine who's back in the hospital after undergoing treatment for the most aggressive kind of breast cancer.

I imagine the former and current folks involved in their struggle are thinking about everything they haven't done versus what they have done. I can only hope what they have done is giving them some comfort.