December 25, 2012 by Ian Goldstein
We all regret something. Or at least, we all hesitate about some decision, or non-decision that we made. I didn’t go to my senior prom. And, at the time, it was a conclusion based on economics—I didn’t want to pay $80 for a ticket. Occasionally my Neurotic Mind will initiate a conversation with my Rational Mind about that choice:
Neurotic Mind: “Maybe I should have gone to prom. I would have liked it.”
Logical Mind: “No, actually I don’t think so.”
Neurotic Mind: “But—I mean—if I did, then at least I could say I went; then if someone ever asks me ‘Hey, you there, did you ever go to prom?’ I could respond confidently, ‘Why yes I did.’”
Then he’ll leave and I’ll say to myself, “I really shouldn’t have gone to prom, what a terrible night it was” and “who was that?”
Loss of potential upsets us. If a plan is made, then cancelled it could be the most freeing feeling or the most disappointing—depending on the level of excitement for the plan itself. Potential lost or gained is one of the most impactful catalysts of strong emotions. Think of snow days. I’m not sure there’s a better sensation than waking up at 6 a.m., hearing your parents already up, eating some adult wheat/fiber cereal, worrying about the condition of the roads, but all you can think about is the possibility of no school. The local news is on and you watch eagerly to see your school appear on the cancellation list. It’s there, right after some joke-of-a-school that got a two hour delay. A shot of euphoria floods in. The morning begins. You make some hot chocolate, stay in your sweatpants and you indulge in a kid cereal that scrapes the roof of your mouth and pretends as if there’s something in it that will help you grow. You even shovel the driveway without much argument, “Hey, at least it’s not school,” you say as an elderly man jogs by and gives you a thumbs up. It’s 11 a.m. and the day is in front of you. You can watch some daytime TV, have a nice lunch. Then some thoughts creep in. “Wait, it’s almost afternoon. I’d be ending school now. The sky is still grey. The snow is melting. And it’s only Tuesday. Maury is ending and he is the father!” That’s okay you still have a couple of hours to do something, but what? More TV. Nice. Some additional time passes. Potential is fading, the day is ending. It’s 6 p.m. and the parents come back from work complaining more about the roads and how the driveway wasn’t shoveled enough. It’s a school night again. Before you realize it, it’s 10 p.m. you’re going to sleep and focused on the next 6 a.m.-wake-up. There won’t be another day off until spring break. And now you dread the next day when everything returns. Potential gone. School begins. Sadness. Routine. In that one day, potential skyrockets and then crashes. In the morning, the world was open, anything was possible, now its closed and you feel trapped. You wonder how much more you could have done.
My generation can do anything. If we want to learn a new language, teach ourselves an instrument, become history buffs, master cooking, then we can; the potential waits because we have access to the internet and time, at least for now. We choose Facebook, Reddit and Twitter over these options though. They’re easier, less effort, more ego-inflating. Because of the internet we will always lose some potential by not doing what’s out there because, let’s face it, there’s a plethora of knowledge to be gained, but we like doing what’s easier. Untapped potential is in our everyday lives, but it’s also in the lives of the people we admire.
What would it have been like if Buddy Holly met The Beatles? What if Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin made their way into the 21st century? The list of musicians, athletes, writers and actors who died young is long, it’s tragic and it’s filled with hypotheticals. We like to think that if pop culture icons like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe made it past 40 years old they would have changed the world in some way. Len Bias, the #2 pick in the 1986 NBA draft was overflowing with potential. Coming out of the University of Maryland, he was set to cement Larry Bird’s legacy with another Celtic championship and ready to construct his own. But he died of a drug overdose two days after being drafted, leaving speculators wondering if the Celtics would have contested Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990’s had Bias lived.
Musicians who die young leave behind massive fan theory; had Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, John Bonham, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Tupac lived, one wonders how they would fit into today’s world and the impact they would have had. How much potential did we lose? How much potential did they lose?
John Lennon lived in the ‘80s, sort of. While he died in 1980, he was aware of New Wave, sported a kind of mullet and was alive to see Empire Strikes Back and The Blues Brothers in theaters. He saw how the decade of new music began. He so encompassed the ‘60s and ‘70s that John Lennon in the ‘80s makes no sense. What makes his story tragic is that he had marked a point in his life when fame was no longer as appealing as family life. He wasn’t partying with Harry Nilsson or abusing his body with drugs or alcohol the way he had in years prior, the way so many of his contemporaries died.
In 1980 Lennon released his last album—Double Fantasy; he was planning to return to England—after four years away, to see his Aunt Mimi. He wanted to shoot promo videos for some songs on Double Fantasy. He was ready to embark on a world tour. He wanted spend more time with his family—to see his son, Sean, grow up. But December 1980 was his last month alive. Lennon took five years, from 1975-1980, to be a father. It’s those five years that encompass his message of love more than any protest he started, rally he attended or song he wrote; he was a family man at heart. Lennon’s death appears to be one of the most tragic loss of potential stories, but it’s not. Almost everyone would have loved a Beatles reunion, to see Lennon evolve artistically. He would have sold more records, made more money. But he already played with The Beatles. He already evolved musically. He had money. Though Lennon’s death was abrupt, his life represented someone who couldn’t be happier—he couldn’t be depressed because he felt obligated to keep his son happy. “I have more reason to stay healthy and bright,” he said in his last interview. Lennon’s death illustrates a life cut short, but it also signifies how a man reached his true potential, regardless of what the world thought of him. He wanted to make his son happy— to give. And that’s how Lennon died, not as an artist searching for depression to put in his work, but as a family man trying to fix the potential he threw away the first time he was a father to son Julian. He traded success and fame for family; to him, he fulfilled his potential. And he was content with that.
When potential is lost, it hurts: failing an exam, losing a job, feeling rejected. When potential is gained, it’s euphoric: a job opportunity, a day off, being accepted. Positive thoughts become ubiquitous. Everything is great. Sometimes we don’t realize when there is potential at all; we’re distracted, but there’s potential in everything. The rest of John Lennon’s life can be viewed as a massive question mark, but in last moments his only hope was to see his son. There’s usually more potential reached than realized. It can be gained as much as it can be lost, but it’s always there. We can discover the potential and embrace it, as long as we look for it and find it in the present.