My old friend Charlie stopped by last night.
“Dude, you missed Woodstock.”
We had not seen each other in fifty years, and this was the very first thing that came to his mind.
But it was vintage Charlie.
It did not surprise me that Charlie had not changed but it was surprising to see how little. His hair still hung below his belt, he wore the same old tie-dye t-shirt and his tattered bell-bottom blue jeans shrieked 1969.
But no one changes that little.
What struck me was…, Charlie was always a bit of a stoner and most of the time he was not really there – but something about him seemed more not there than usual.
“Are you a ghost?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said.
I reached out. Trying to touch him was like grasping fog. There was less of him than there ever was.
“Yep, you’re a ghost.”
The revelation didn’t phase him.
“Do you regret missing Woodstock?” he asked.
“Not at all.”
“Do you regret anything else?”
I have been thinking about regrets lately and maybe it is why the ghost of Charlie came to visit.
There are things I have done that I genuinely regret.
There are things I probably should regret but don’t and there are things I will come to regret some day.
But of all these things, what I regret the most are the things I should have done but never did: the opportunities missed, the ideals compromised and the focus spent on the wrong things.
“So I am Scrooge and you are the ghost of Marley?”
“I’m Charlie,” he said as his eyes tracked an imaginary fly, “not Marley.” It was one of his ticks. He did that when he was utterly baffled – which happened a lot.
I snapped my fingers.
“Focus,” I told him, “why are you here?”
“Oh,” he said, “I am here to tell you that you are going to be visited by three possible futures. Each represented by a path of regret that you didn’t take.”
And with that…
Poof! Charlie vanished.
Before me stood The Ghost of Opportunities Not Missed and I have to say, this ghost was an exquisitely dapper version of myself.
“Wow!” I said, “love the outfit and is that watch a Rolex?”
The ghost of future me sniffed in contempt. “Cartier,” he said.
“Apparently I jumped on the Tech Wave early, huh?”
“Pong,” the ghost said.
Pong was the first successful video game. It was nothing more than a white dot that bounced around a television screen but in 1972, it sold millions.
“I invented Pong?” I asked.
“You did and then you leaped into Apple stock and bailed out just in time, then got back in. You cruised through Microsoft’s up and downs and eventually bankrolled Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Now all of social media is yours.”
“Ooooo, I must be rich!”
“And powerful,” the ghost gloated.
And there sat my future me at a gleaming mahogany desk in the corner office of a penthouse suit. The skyline of Seattle twinkled in the background.
“So you want to buy an election!” my future me exclaimed into the phone.
The phone buzzed softly in reply.
“How are you going to pay for that?”
“Vlad, you know I love you but your credit is no good.”
“Why? Because it is the end of the line for you. I just sold the Russian election to one of your opponents.”
“Who? That would be telling.”
I am not sure I liked that future me.
And Poof! He was gone.
Poof ! The Ghost of Values Not Compromised appeared.
This one looked a lot like Charlie and my future me was dressed to match. His bushy beard and long yellowing hair spoke for a man who let the world go one way while he stayed true to himself and went another.
“So what’s your story?” I asked.
“I am the ghost of the future you who never compromised his ideals.”
“Now this I can get into,” I told him. “The last future me had no integrity whatsoever.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said as he pointed a long bony fingers at the future me sitting in front of his computer.
“Read,” his hollow voice commanded.
I inched closer to see what my future me was typing.
YOU COMMIE FASCIST SCUMBAG, MAY YOU ROT IN HELL.
“OMG! He’s typing into my uncle’s Phil’s Facebook page. What the heck? Phil is the sweetest guy in the world. How could you say that to him?”
“He may be sweet,“ the ghostly voice said, “but he ‘liked’ a Facebook photo. It was a picture of a friend playing golf.”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Golf is an elitist sport played primarily by the ruling class.”
“You commie fascist scumbag….”
“Was I really that radical in college?”
And Poof! Thankfully, he was gone.
Poof! The last ghost of future me appeared. The one who focused on all the right things.
He looked exactly like me. He even wore the clothes I was wearing. He was staring at my laptop and there on the screen was the work in progress that I have abandoned all too many times.
“Uh…,” he muttered to himself, “just have to check Facebook.”
“NOO!” I screamed, “social media is NOT the right thing to focus on! It’s a worthless distraction!”
“You are having a nightmare,” my wife told me.
“I guess, but it was so real.”
“You were screaming something about Facebook.”
“Did you sign up for Facebook again?”
“I did,” I confessed, “there was a writing group I wanted to join.”
“Social media is poison; you know that.”
“Sorry,” I told her and I truly was.
Signing up for Facebook is among my greatest of all regrets. It is something you know you shouldn’t do but you do anyway.
“Go back to sleep,” she said.
“I need to settle down first,” I told her.
To calm myself, I walked to the bedroom window and gazed out into the moonlight – and there among the ancient oaks, the shadow of a young man, who was never really there, slowly melted into the night.
“Thanks Charlie,” I whispered.
Like the smile of the Cheshire cat, his hand was the last thing to disappear and as it vanished, it flashed a peace sign.