I Coulda Been a Contender

I was cleaning off my desk yesterday when I found notes for a blog post, including the famous line from On the Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender”. At first, I couldn’t figure out what I’d planned to say about that famous line, but eventually I remembered the circumstances and what I’d been thinking. Nothing inspiring, that’s for sure. In fact, the complete opposite.

For the past year or so, almost every night as I get ready for bed, I get hit with a sudden pang of loneliness. On one particular night, along with the loneliness came the feeling that I was wasting my life, that I wasn’t living up to my potential, and the words “I could have been a contender” kept playing in my head.

And then I had an even worse thought — what if I am living up to my potential? What if this is all there is to me? It made me wonder which was worse, knowing you could have been a contender, could have been someone if things had been different or knowing you never could have been a contender, that it simply wasn’t in you.

I really do tend to believe that we all do the best we can at any given moment, and if we feel as if we are slacking, then perhaps there are other factors at work besides a disinclination to do what we think we should be doing. I’ve often thought I was lazy, even back when I was a child. I remember being sick once, and not wanting to go to school. I was out for a long time because I kept “playing hooky.” I stayed in bed and read, and was quite content. I don’t know what made me finally agree to go back to school; the only other part of that episode I remember was that I didn’t get a report card because I’d been out of school for so long. Years later, I mentioned this to my mother. She looked at me in astonishment and said, “You weren’t faking. You really were sick.” I don’t know what I had — maybe a cold. When I get sick, even with something minor, it tends to linger for weeks or even months, which is why I try to stay away from potential risks.

In a way, what I was feeling a couple of weeks ago is similar. Obviously, if I really had been sick when I was a kid, I couldn’t have gone to school even if I wanted to. And now, at my age and with my knees, there are a lot of things I couldn’t do even if I wanted to, like hiking great distances (or even short distances on treacherous ground). Even more unfortunately, I never could find a way to become a bestselling writer — I am not a salesperson, and despite my best attempts, I have never been successful at selling my books.

Looking back a few weeks to when I was feeling bad about being — or not being — a contender, I now realize it was in the middle of December during the bleak time of frigid temperatures and little sun. Because I didn’t really feel depressed (despite the depressing thoughts), it never occurred to me that I was having my usual winter bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Luckily for my peace of mind, the feeling of wasting my life passed. Oh, it’s possible I really am not making full use of my life, but the sun is out, and we are back to our usual winter temperatures (highs in the forties, lows in the high teens and twenties), so it no longer seems to matter.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

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