For a second I was seized with a desire to turn left and return to my student lodgings and the past. The feelings that I had as an undergraduate came flooding back: excitement, anxiety, a sense of exhilarating freedom. I found it difficult to leave home when I first went to University and had gradually built up a sense of confidence in myself and my ability to live independently. Learning things was fun, but the ever-present threat of examinations and the thought that one day I would have to do this for real placed a cloud of worry on the horizon. And I had a sense of freedom which came from having no dependants, relatively simple personal needs that were all fulfilled, and the opportunity to do many interesting things. Although I always thought of myself as rather dull, in retrospect I got up to quite a lot during my student years. I did not think about the future very much but it seemed an open book – the world was my oyster.
More than twenty-five years later the course of my life is most definitely fixed: my career as a GP is two-thirds over, my children are grown up, I hope very much that I shall not be in need of a new wife. I do not regret this at all (like Edith Piaf je ne regrette rien). My pang of loss was for the freedom and raw potential of a life as yet unmapped. My children (and I suppose my patients) cannot imagine that I could have been any other way. Only I know that what I am is but one of many potential people that I might have been. Robert Frost put it nicely:
I shall be telling this with a sighI don't think the poet was saying that he had made the wrong choice. What both he and I were regretting was that our choices have left the other roads untravelled, the other lives unlived.
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
And both that morning equally layI am now determined to make the most of this road that I am travelling, and to do different and interesting things as far as its constraints will allow.
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.