If you could magically have one day of your life to live over again from start to finish exactly as it happened, which day would you choose? Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the marriage of my son to his wife. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of his wife’s family, this event was super-wonderful, a fairytale wedding. I would love to relive that day, but if I could only choose one out of my whole life, would that day be my choice? I could choose my own wedding, 33 years ago. That seems too far to go back in time; seems like honest-to-goodness hardcore time traveling. None of my children had been born yet in 1982 and it was years before I moved to my beloved 40 acres in the forest in gorgeous Mendocino County. I don’t think I would choose to relive a day without my children. From the moment each of them was born, I could no longer imagine the world without them in it.
This week I’m reading Charles Yu’s book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. The protagonist repairs time travel machines. In Yu’s sci-fi, people usually choose to return to the saddest day of their lives because they hope to change what happened, or at least their relationship to what happened. But in his book it doesn’t ever work that way. The past can’t be changed. I think he’s wrong about people wanting to return to sad days. I think people would want to return to the happy days, but I think that because that’s what I would do.
So what would constitute a happy day? One of the happiest? I could choose to return to the exciting day we moved from Berkeley to our land at the Ranch, when our adventure as a family living in a remote forest in paradise first began. I could choose to return to one of the extra-special Thanksgivings that we spent on the land with my parents (when Mom was still alive) and our friends (when all of them were still alive, before so many of them passed away much too early, too young), and when our Australian shepherd was still alive (I feel guilty putting her in this sentence with friends, and, of all people, Mom, but she was an excellent dog and Mom loved her so she would forgive me for wishing to spend more time with them both in the same breath). I could choose one of the festive Saturdays over Labor Day Weekend when the abundance of friends, food, music, and laughter overflowed at the Ranch. I might choose the particular Labor Day party when I celebrated my 40th birthday, or my 50th birthday, or our 25th wedding anniversary. I could choose the first Christmas after all my children left home when they all returned for the holiday (including my son’s wife, who was his fiancée at the time).
Or how about one of those perfect sun-drenched days at Manresa Beach near Santa Cruz, sparkling blue, graced with passing schools of dolphins, on our family’s annual summer vacation during the years that the children were growing up? I might go for one of those days to live over. Building elaborate sandcastles, flying colorful kites, talking for hours with our children and their friends as we lolled on the beach, going for long walks, collecting sand dollars, playing Frisbee, digging a hole to China. In the evening, cooking dinner over the campfire and finishing up with s’mores. Playing Taboo at the picnic table by lantern-light. Perfection. However, if I chose such a day (and they were often glorious so I am sorely tempted) then I wouldn’t get to see my mom again since she never went to Manresa with us.
Maybe I would choose a day of great accomplishment or recognition. The day I found out that a publisher wanted to publish my novel that I spent 20 years writing? Recently a friend of mine whom I have often admired for the good work he does in the world opened up and confessed that he wonders what he accomplished in his life. I was stunned. How could he, of all people, feel as though he has accomplished nothing? I share with him my fear that one day, when my time comes, I will face death wondering if I used my life wisely, to do good in the world, to make a small difference. So perhaps if I could relive only one day I would do well to choose a day on which I was reminded of something I had accomplished to make a mark, something that matters. But I am, in the end, so tiny in the inconceivably huge depths of the universe that, seriously, how could anything at all that I do here really matter? I am smaller than a blip on the screen of the firmament.
One day. One day to have again. I would not choose an auspicious day, an unusual day, an eventful day. I would choose, instead, an ordinary day. I would choose a slow summer day, during the Ranch years, when my parents drove up to visit and Dad took the dog for a long walk up the hill, and we chatted by our modest doughboy pool while the children played Marco Polo (and I jumped in to play with them for a while), and the lazy afternoon slid by filled with homemade pesto on crackers, watermelon, lemonade, and small talk with my folks, my husband, my children. A day when we had challah French toast with real maple syrup for breakfast, enchiladas for dinner, and ice cream for dessert. A day when I picked purple and red flowers I had grown and put them in a vase on the kitchen table; and picked tomatoes and basil from the garden and made tomato salad. A day when we played R&B from the old days in the late evening and danced around our house for no reason other than that we felt better than James Brown. When the children gathered before bed and listened to me read aloud from a good book, maybe the latest Harry Potter, because it seriously doesn’t get any better than J.K. Rowling. When the country night filled with infinite stars and, after the children went to bed and my parents headed back home, I sat on the deck with my husband to enjoy the beauty of the vast universe in the hour before sleep. When I drifted off at the end of the day under the watchful gaze of tall, tall Doug firs and oaks, embraced in gratitude, feeling blessed. I would choose that kind of ordinary day. I could choose that day again and again and again.
Sometimes I am lucky enough to have one of those kind of miraculous ordinary days appear out of nowhere in the midst of my life as it is now, even with my children grown, even after leaving my beloved land, even when so many loved ones have moved on. Delight happens, taking us unawares when we least expect it.
Which day would you choose to live again? Message me to let me know—I’m curious. I’m grateful for the miracle of living at the same time as you, my friend, so that we can pass this way in each other’s company. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet year, a good year. Wishing you L’Shana Tova (Hebrew for “good new year”) at this time of the Jewish High Holy Days.
Still life photo taken by Akili Wachspress.
We were fooling around with ideas for book covers for "Memories from Cherry Harvest."
None of our photos were used of course by the publisher.