Lost in the Maybe, Caught up in the Should Have

I learned last week that the human brain is capable of processing 70 000 thoughts a day. This means that at the time I am writing this, I have had over 576 975 000 thoughts. More than 1/2 a TRILLION thoughts. Most of which were probably unconscious, and the definition of a thought and how the distinction between thoughts is unclear. Still, when you stop and think about the number of thoughts you have in a day and the immense capacity of the human mind, you cannot help but be awestruck. And slightly philosophical. Thinking about thinking really is a strange thing. Really gives a whole new meaning to “I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

Yesterday morning started like any other – I got up, had breakfast, drank my coffee and groggily began polishing my post for Defining the Undefined. About 9:40AM Facebook pinged at me, it was a wall post from my semi-frantic Aunt:

Facebook screenshot smaller

I clearly was bewildered, but a quick Google search cleared things up for me real fast. And the thought struck me – I have thought about going to campus for an early run before class. If I had gone, I likely would have left around 8:30. Likely catching the last express bus to campus to save me the hassle of a transfer. As the day unfolded, I realized that the bus I would have taken was THE bus. And since I’m usually at the front of the upper level, it could have been me.

At the moment of hearing the news my mind went completely silent. And then a million and one thoughts began racing through my mind. I am fairly certain that I went over my daily thought quotient today.

While thinking about what I was going to write about today I had been playing with the fact that started this post – the sheer number of thoughts I had in a day. And then news of OC Transpo v. VIA rail broke. I couldn’t help but become absorbed with the media coverage, lost in thoughts about the crash. What the passengers were thinking? What were the last thoughts of the deceased were? Thinking about the poor people who didn’t know where their loved ones were? How could this happen? I could go on but I think you get the gist.

I mourned for people I didn’t even know. My heart broke for the people who had lost someone, who were left, on a random Wednesday with a gaping hole in their hearts. It’s a tendency of mine, and I think of people in general. Consumed by this need to understand I read. I searched for any article I could find. I read of a son who dropped his mother off at 8:45, 5 minutes before the crash and hadn’t heard from her since. Of a woman who was running late and caught the bus behind the one that crashed, and when she was taken back to Fallowfield, couldn’t bring herself to get on a bus again. Of people who watched the crash from Woodroffe Avenue. I have heard bits a pieces in the last 24 hours, including a passenger who’s sister was standing BESIDE the driver and survived, and a girl who survived, but all around her people had died. Everyone on the bus home last night seemed to know someone who had been affected.

It all really hit me though when I pulled up to Fallowfield station. Driving up to the station, we passed the parking lot and it hit me – some of those cars would not be picked up tonight, some would never be driven by the person that left them there again. There was a police officer walking among the cars, I imagine to search for the cars of the deceased and injured. Waiting for the bus, I saw the news trucks with their massive wireless towers, and it made me realize just how close to the station the crash had been. I walked over to the end of the platform, drawn to it. What I saw shocked me. It was like something out of a movie; a phrase that seems common on people’s lips today. I find it hard to believe how this could have happened in the suburbs. The train twisted off its tracks, the sight of the bus in the distance, the police lights. There are hundreds of pictures out now depicting the horror, I had seen some of them before going, but honestly it doesn’t compare to seeing it for yourself. Until that moment they had just been pictures, horrifying pictures, but still separated from reality.

It is hard to think about even now. It dominated conversation in my house all day. My mom had a point though – YES it COULD have been me, but that is a fact of life. I could be walking down the street and a random car could hit me. I could be driving to work and there be a 10 car pile-up. It could have been any bus. Every time I leave my house – heck even when I don’t leave my house – there is a chance of tragedy. I live in a flight path, a plane could crash into my house while I am eating breakfast. Anything COULD happen. And drawing the attention to the fact that you COULD have died, just because a sudden freak accident has reminded you of your mortality and the precarious nature of life, detracts attention from those who DID die or who WERE injured. Someone else is suffering a lot more than you in your experience of the terror of mortality. And my heart goes out to the people who were affected by yesterday’s tragedy. This has hit particularly close to home for me. Literally. The crash was less than 5km from my house. It has reminded me to really appreciate the people around me. To appreciate my life and try to stop putting things off until tomorrow. To never stay angry, because as today’s tragic events showed – every day could be your last, you might not get the chance to say good bye. Do you really want to have left angry because someone put an empty milk jug in the fridge?

I spent a lot of the day lost in a sea of “what ifs?” Which is fairly common for me in general. That and the “should haves.” These are two very dangerous lines of thought for anyone to get into. I get lost in a world of hypotheticals. Today they consumed me, I could barely even focus on my assignments and classes. I kept thinking about what it must have been like for the passengers, what it would be/was like for the families, what it would have been like for my family if it had been me. Here’s the problem though – “What ifs” make you worry for nothing, and “should haves” make you feel guilty for things you cannot change – both chain you to the past. It effectively becomes crying over spilled milk. You are assuming that if you had behaved differently, the environment would have responded. Or that it would change the end result.

This has always been one of my favourite Disney moments - something I remind myself of when I get on the what-if train.

This has always been one of my favourite Disney moments – something I remind myself of when I get on the what-if train.

I feel like this would be a significantly more valid reason to cry, though right now I'm laughing.

I feel like this would be a significantly more valid reason to cry, though right now I’m laughing.

It is easy to get lost in thought, we each come equipped with our own mini world where we can work and move around without interference. And while I won’t tell you to NOT think, in fact I encourage thinking, it means you’re not letting someone else do it for you. What I am telling you though is to sometimes thinking on the positive side and being nice to yourself is in order, and sometimes you need to stop trying to get into someone else’s mind. Can’t be done. Give up now. The closest thing is to ask them.

Now before I start to sound all preachy – know that I haven’t mastered this skill myself. I too am prone to beating myself up over what I should have done yesterday, what I should have said, what if I had done x instead of y? I am not always nice to myself either. I will admit to complaining about my body, hating it because it didn’t come in the right shape or size. I have beat myself up because I didn’t get a high enough grade or I made a bad decision. But the conclusion I have come to on the first – is that my body is awesome. Maybe it doesn’t look the way I want it to, but it keeps me going, it allows me to run, to play with my nephews, to go to sleep and trust that I will wake up, it has stood by me through some very grave mistreatment, so size aside, it’s doing alright. As to the second – shit happens. If you think you’re the only one on the planet who has made whatever mistake you just made, or faced whatever disappointment you are feeling right now, think again.

Thoughts are a big part of our society, we label behaviours as thoughtful or thoughtless and when a teenager gets into trouble what is the parent’s classic response? “What were you thinking?” Like that’s going to yield a lot in the adolescent department – their brains aren’t developed all the way, give em some slack. Then there’s the classic – You can do anything you put your mind to. Which is a rosy sentiment, but really convincing myself I can lift an elephant doesn’t mean I CAN. But there are also a lot of things that you might not necessarily THINK you can do, but in reality if you work at it you can. I never thought I could run 5 kilometers, let alone run a half-marathon, but I am about to do just that. We also, unfortunately, are prone to thinking that if we can just understand why someone did something, that we will feel better. We try to put ourselves inside their mind, imagine their thoughts, and come to a conclusion from there. But we can’t know their thoughts. Sometimes you never even get the chance to ask them. And the answer might not always be the one you were looking for, it might even make you feel worse.

The mind is a powerful thing, but it does have its limits. Telekinesis and telepathy are still not things. The closest science has gotten is harnessing the power of our thoughts in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). A therapy grounded in the idea that your thoughts become your actions and your actions influence your thoughts. Something Lao Tse and Ghandi knew a long time ago.

There is no doubt that thoughts are powerful and in a potentially endless supply, even if at times they seem weak and in short supply. Today my thoughts and my heart goes out to all those affected by yesterday’s tragedy. And I leave you with one thought for the day – stop and appreciate the power of your mind. Be nice to yourself, and try to live in the present. The past is the past. Appreciate what you have and who you are while you have it and are this person. Things change, people change, whether we have a horrific bus crash to remind us of our mortality or not – at any moment someone you care about could be gone. So don’t waste it, love them while they are here. Oh God that just sounds so depressing. Shall I sum it up as YOLO? Or would that be too blasé and you know…unintelligent

Another Disney gem. The crazy baboon has a point.

Another Disney gem. The crazy baboon has a point.

Oh and one last think – go tell someone you love them. Right now.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Decisions, Villages, and People Watching | climbing the crazy tree

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