It’s a common enough question. What would you do if you knew that the world was going to end soon?
The answers are usually pretty common, too. I’d quit my job. I’d eat all my favourite foods. I’d travel. I’d visit that one country I’ve been longing to see for as long as I can remember. I’d tell that person how I feel. I’d do that exciting thing I’ve always wanted to do.
The question came up during conversation time in my French class the other week, and it came as something as a surprise to me that I was the only one unable to produce answers like these. Everyone else seemed to have a list of hopes and dreams and wishes and longings, with apparently no intention of making them come true unless they happen to get some kind of indication that the world is about to end. This confuses me. And of course, my “I wouldn’t change anything in particular” confused them just as much.
But wouldn’t you quit your job? asked someone. I shrugged. Maybe if I had only a day or so to live… I suppose there wouldn’t be much point in educating children for the future when they weren’t actually going to have one, I replied. But the point of the question is to find out what you’d do if it was your last chance. Being free from work is not one of my wishes. If I were doing I job I hated, I’d quit it and find one I could enjoy.
What about travel? asked someone else. There must be a place you dream of going to.
There have been many, and there are still lots! I replied. But I don’t really want to wait until I’m about to die before I visit them. If I really want to go somewhere, I will find a way of going there instead of wishing and feeling sad that I never will.
But you have obligations, responsibilities, ties, people seemed intent on explaining to me. You can’t just do what you want in life. If you want to build a career, you have to sacrifice other things. If you want to have a family, you have to abandon certain dreams.
One guy, aged about 50, said he’d always wanted to do exciting, adventurous things, but probably never would – unless the world was ending soon. Another said he would quit his job in an instant and spend time with his children to make up for never seeing them. The teacher – younger than me – said she would visit a country she’d always wanted to go to.
But why not go now? I asked, almost baffled by this line of thinking. Why wait until the world is ending to do the things that will make you happy?
Maybe it’s that people want too many things that are at odds with each other. A family and a career and lots of excitement to boot. Maybe you can’t do all that at once. Maybe I’m lucky in that I have no desire to get married and have a family, and haven’t worked my way up any corporate ladder – I have nothing to lose by just packing it all in and doing the next exciting-looking thing that crops up. And yes, that may have its pitfalls: lack of stability, lack of security, an abundance of people who think I’m crazy for not ‘settling down’ and starting to save for my old age. Am I sacrificing a safe and secure future in order to do all the things I want to do right now? Yes, I daresay I am. But the world could end soon, right? ;) And as I watch the final flash of doom streaking across the sky, would I rather think to myself, “Excellent, I have thousands saved up in the bank and a fabulous pension plan,” or “I’m broke, but hey, I’ve made my mark and I’ve seen what I wanted to see of this crazy world.”?
I’m 29 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I only know what I want to do right now. I wanted to travel Europe and be a freelance writer. I did it. I ended up broke and homeless and broken-hearted, but I did it! I wanted to travel in Asia, even after the aforementioned disaster that left me with only the clothes on my back. I did it. Now I want to live in France, as much as that is a ridiculously stupid idea, economically speaking, and I would be much more sensible either staying here and saving, or going back to the UK and doing something that might get me on the right track in terms of making a career and providing for my future. But I want to live in France, and have French friends, and drink coffee and write poems at my local cafe where they know me by name (which they make sound sexy in a way that speakers of no other language can), and go to the Louvre at the weekend, and have picnics in sight of the Eiffel Tower, and all sorts of other fanciful, head-in-the-clouds things. So I will do my utmost to make it happen, instead of thinking wistfully to myself, “Ah, France…. maybe one day, when the world is ending…”.
Maybe people are right, and I will regret my lack of planning when I’m 70 years old with no money, and sitting shivering by the light of a solitary candle. But I have hope that I’ll come up with some scheme or other to get me through. The image that fills me with much more fear is the one where I’m gazing sadly into the flickering candlelight, thinking of all those things I wanted to do, but never did. That’s the one I’d rather aim to avoid.
I only get one life. Why should I spend it all planning for the last part of it?