Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Many regrets cluster around opportunities: opportunities that were missed, and opportunities that never came.

We live in a nation full of opportunities. We like to think there are opportunities for everyone. But, as we know, there are opportunities, and there are opportunities. Some of us have an eye for opportunity and, within that group, some have the knack of quickly and decisively seizing it. The opportunity of purchasing a lottery ticket is available to everyone, is it not? But what kind of opportunity is it when five hundred million lottery tickets have already been purchased? There is indeed an opportunity to win the prize, but the opportunity: is it not slender? Indeed, there are some opportunities for winning that are so unlikely that, in reality, it’s comparable to having no opportunity at all.

But there are other opportunities coming our way which are more promising. These are the ones that should attract our attention and spur us on to seize them. Sometimes we are rewarded by an opportunity of which we have taken advantage. At other times we are not. Most of us are prepared to fail in an effort to gain an opportunity, especially if we have engaged it only after pondering it. For we know we can’t succeed all the time.

But provided we have some assurance that opportunities will continue to come, we learn to bide our time. While there may be an apparent proliferation of opportunities for some people, perhaps even ourselves, there are some opportunities, for one reason or another, of which we fail to take advantage. They become lost opportunities. They had been within our grasp, but we backed off from grasping them. This can be painful and frustrating, especially when we later on recall no good reason why we failed to engage certain opportunities. They became lost chances. And this may weigh heavy on us as we later come to appreciate what a marvelous opportunity it was. We may berate ourselves because of our propensity to disregard opportunities that eventually prove to be golden, or, if, despite such a propensity, we fail to respond on a certain occasion to an opportunity, and later on wonder why.

This is the story of opportunities for many people: plentiful, but not always pursued. Perhaps there is fear that opportunities are really just sheer chances, which often perform only at a 50-50 level. Yet opportunity usually leans a bit more toward one side than another, differing from a chance in this regard. One who is skilled in spotting opportunities is really more than a gambler who is satisfied with just a 50-50 possibility in his or her calculations. So to say of someone that he or she had no opportunity is not to say he or she never had a chance.

Yet, amid all this speculation about the enrichment associated with opportunity, we remain keenly aware that opportunity is not equally available across the board for everyone. Some of us, admittedly, have more opportunities than others.   Sad to say, others of us have never had any opportunity at all. There are those who have lived lives devoid of opportunity. That is nearly as bad as never having even a chance.

In our times we have become acutely aware of a fairly large number of persons whose situation in life is one of deprivation and of emptiness. They have nothing to call their own, other than “hand-me-downs” coming from elsewhere. As a result, they were never in a position to improve their lives. They learned to live “without”, not only without tangible benefits, but, worse, without an intangible like hope. Promise never brightened their lives. The experience of something “better” or “different” was foreign to them. Having lived in this manner all their lives, they lack the ability to conjure up a life scenario different from what is presently available to them. It is like driving a car in a snowfall that becomes a “white out”, devoid of all color. This is worse than darkness, which at least light can penetrate. But a white-out swallows even light. Rather, all is colorless, with an all-enveloping sameness dulling any trace of difference. It is a dangerous way to drive: no blues, reds, greens, yellows, browns, orange or blacks. All white. One loses one’s bearings in such a situation, and cannot drive safely, just as no one can live life without opportunity.

So, even though we may regret our lost opportunities, we should think of those who never had them. Which is worse: to regret loss of opportunities that came our way, or to regret never having known an opportunity?

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