Do you have a day in your life that you wish you could do over? Do you wonder if everything would have turned out better if you had made a different choice at one specific time?
Do you have a Gazpacho Soup Day?
Yes, I cannot tell a lie. This is indeed going to be another one of my weird metaphors. And another science fiction reference. Who knows it already? Say it with me…“gazpacho sooooouuuuup…”
Gazpacho soup. The unlikely last words of Arnold J. Rimmer, dead and holographically resurrected crewman of the mining ship Red Dwarf, from the British sci-fi comedy series of the same name. These are the words he utters, knowing they will be his last, as he perishes in an explosion. Why? And what the hell does this have to do with me or with life?
I could do a whole character study on Rimmer, but to be brief, he is a man consumed with insecurity and desire to advance himself. He simmers with resentment about being a lowly crewman. Years ago, he was invited to dine at the captain’s table, most likely because each crew member gets to do this once. Rimmer decides that this is his big chance, and tries hard to impress everyone. Gazpacho, a spicy tomato-based soup served chilled, is brought to the table. Rimmer, desperate to look assertive and worldly, pompously sends his back to be heated up.
When he realizes his mistake, he is beyond mortified. For the remaining years of his life, he sees his faux pas as the pivotal moment that determined his future…if only he had known gazpacho was meant to be served cold, he’d be an admiral by now! He blames his dissatisfaction on a bowl of soup, ignoring the thousands of choices he’s made since then or anything else about himself.
I think we all have ideas like this, although they often center on a choice that seems less trivial than sending back soup. If only we’d majored in something different. If only we’d taken that job in 1993. If only we hadn’t bought that house. If only we’d said “I think we should see other people,” instead of “I love you too.”
Some of my recent anxiety made me think about this. I’m so damn sensitive to missed opportunities and what-ifs! It’s as if I have some secret record of my ideal life, a life I “should” be having, along with a record of every mistake or wrong choice I made that took me away from it. It’s something that is so habitual I accept it without questioning, and I don’t respect how destructive it really is. But it is destructive on so many levels, and I can’t afford to harbor that kind of shit any more. Gazpacho Soup Syndrome will kill me if I let it.
It can kill me by keeping me from being present in the moment. It can kill me by feeding self-pity and sucking away gratitude. It can kill me by making me forget that I have new choices at any given moment, starting now. It can kill me by encouraging shame and making me see myself as nothing but a flawed and incomplete version of what I should be.
Perhaps you think that “kill” is a strong word. Everybody’s a little neurotic, or insecure, or has regrets, right? Of course we do. The reason I use this word is a personal one, and only you know whether it applies to you too. I say it that way because I’ve been suicidal and know I could be again. I say it because I nearly died as a result of addictive behavior and have such a death waiting for me if I relapse.
So I don’t work on myself and my attitudes for self-improvement, but for survival. Addiction and mental illness have given me the “gift” of a growth-oriented life, guided and compelled by a clear alternative. It’s a double-edged gift, to say the least, but I am grateful for it. That’s why I ponder things like Rimmer’s gazpacho soup, or any of a thousand other metaphors for what happens to us and where I need to grow. Because I need so many reminders, I fashion them out of what I know. I use the things that engage my imagination and playfulness, because they work.
So when you’re feeling the sting of a missed opportunity, or a regret about a past choice, let yourself feel some honest pain and disappointment if you need to. But when you’ve done that, if it’s still hanging on…try turning it red and spicy and putting it into a bowl. Then join me in trying not to be like Arnold Rimmer.