There are many stages in life, and each contains its own unique emotional challenges. Erik Erikson was a psychologist who looked at the various challenges of these particular “stages”. He categorized each of these stages as pertaining to the psychosocial development at that stage.
For me, I am getting to the point in my life in which I am known as a “senior citizen”. Of course this depends on which business is willing to give a discount at a specific age. Some are a little older, some are a little younger. Either way, I’m at the point where I get an invitation to join AARP just about every other day, it seems.
Approaching these “Golden Years”, as a senior citizen, I am at the point of looking back at my life, wondering if I made the right choices and pushed myself as much as I could to accomplish things in life. As one tends to look back on their lives, we wonder if they did the right thing. Anybody have these same feelings?
Erikson called this final stage, “Ego Integrity vs. Despair”. Do we see our lives as productive? Or do we feel guilty about our past, dissatisfied with what life threw at us, wondering if somehow we could have done better? To extend this a bit, do we feel that somehow life was unfair, always challenging us yet not letting us reap any rewards for any hard work we put in?
It’s a tough call. Now, even though Erikson confined this stage to older people, I’ll bet that there are many younger people, maybe even teenagers, who ask themselves these questions. I submit that most decisions we make in life come with the afterthought, “did I do the right thing, make the right decision?” It’s probably more a part of human nature than we think.
Time machines do not exist. We can’t go back in time and change things, or see how this decision would have worked out. I listened to a lecture by a rabbi on “Torah Anytime”, and he made the comment that it’s a good thing that we live finite lives. There’s a sense of urgency to accomplish things since we really never know how much time we have or how we’re going to end up. So we have to confront our challenges in life the same way and know that we made the best decision we could have for that moment.
So what if we’re concerned that we made the WRONG decision? Consider that HaShem loves “Teshuva”. HaShem loves it when we feel that we’ve strayed from the path, the “derech” and returned to His commandments. So too, we can always “return” to what may be a better path after making a less-than-efficacious decision.
One of the things that people who ruminate on their life’s paths tend to ignore is how much they’ve grown. They say that “hindsight is 20/20”. Looking in the rear-view mirror, we can always see the bigger picture. What people don’t seem to give themselves credit for is the fact that whatever those previous decisions were, they gave us more wisdom, and the insight to evaluate our previous actions in a brighter light. RATHER THAN BEAT OURSELVES UP FOR NOT HAVING THAT KNOWLEDGE THEN, LET’S USE OUR NEW-FOUND WISDOM, THE WISDOM WE ACQUIRED THROUGH THESE PAST DECISIONS, TO DRIVE OUR LIVES WITH MORE MEANING GOING FORWARD! Right?
Finally, let’s look at the 10th Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s belongings”. In other words, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. How about bringing this closer to home? Don’t covet your own imaginings either, the better life that you think you would have had with a different decision.
One of the reasons that stealing is an offense against G-d is because He apportioned everything for everyone according to His wisdom. By stealing, we are really going against His Design. We have what we have because G-d gave us what we needed, what we deserved, and what would motivate us to push ourselves. By coveting another life, we are going against G-d’s plan, questioning His Divine Knowledge.
Let this then answer your question. G-d put the challenges in front of you, and you did the best you could with what you had. Sure we may think we could have, would have, wanted something better, but we got the best we could and did the best we could under the circumstances.