“Doing” or “Not Doing”- Is “Doing” Always Better?

There’s a saying people use sometimes to decide whether or not to do an activity: “When I’m 80, will I be glad I did this (skydive, go to the theater, leave the house) today?” This question is designed to push the person toward activities that create memories. And while that’s a noble goal, I don’t think memorability should be the only criterion. Just because something will be memorable doesn’t mean it will be enjoyable.

Here’s an example of a time I said “no” to a very memorable event, and didn’t regret it. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to do a summer semester teaching music in England. I was in a group of five girls, and in between our teaching assignments, we did a lot of traveling together. Just by happenstance, we were in England during a major historical event: Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebration, the 50th anniversary of her coronation. (We were also there while England was competing in the World Cup, and it was so much fun cheering on David Beckham and seeing the white flag with red cross hanging on every house and pub.)

My four friends decided there was no way they were missing the Jubilee celebration parade. For a week, they all tried talking me into going with them to London. I thought about it. I knew it was a memory I’d be able to tell my grandchildren- that I saw the Queen of England ride by in her carriage. But how much of her would I really get to see? How many hours would I have to wait, on my feet, in a crushing crowd? I didn’t think the memory of seeing the Queen for a few seconds would make up for the memory of all that discomfort. So I decided not to go. I stayed at my host family’s house that day, explored the town on my own, and came back home to watch the parade on TV. I saw several good shots of the Queen from the comfort of the couch. My friends all came back that night exhausted. They had seen the carriage as it passed by, and the Queen’s arm waving. But they’d also waited for hours, with strangers screaming and yelling all around them, and nearly lost each other trying to find a bathroom. I was glad I’d stayed home, even though I’d never be able to say I saw the Queen of England up close. (Or at least, I haven’t yet.)

On the other hand, sometimes the stars align, and the memorable activity is also an enjoyable one. A much less momentous occasion happened this weekend, but it was one I’m glad I didn’t miss. My husband learned that a WWII destroyer escort, the USS Slater, would be towed down the Hudson River on Sunday, leaving its usual display spot in Albany to be put in drydock for repairs further south. The USS Slater is the last floating WWII destroyer escort in the United States. Although we could see the ship anytime when it’s in Albany, this was a unique opportunity to see her on the water. We decided to go up on the Walkway over the Hudson, a pedestrian bridge spanning from Poughkeepsie to Highland, to see the ship. We ended up getting a lot of great pictures, like this one:

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It was a memorable event, but it was also a lot of fun. It was a beautiful day. The walkway was crowded, but not overly so. We saw a few other big ships, including a bright blue barge. We got exercise and fresh air. It was also my husband’s first time on the Walkway, and it was fun for me to watch him experience it, along with his excitement at seeing the ship. Edwin behaved beautifully, as he always does during walks. We came home afterward and grilled a delicious dinner. I don’t know if I’ll remember those details when I’m 80, but I know I’ll be remembering it next week, next season, next year. It’ll become one of those things my husband and I bring up occasionally: “Hey, remember when we…” and a story we tell Edwin when he’s older. It wasn’t the Queen of England, but to me, it was worth more.

What kinds of memories do you create? Have you ever chosen not to do something that would have been a good story? Did you regret it later?

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