” ‘If only’ must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lockey
When I hear people say ‘I have no regrets’, my first thought is “I’ll have what they’re having”. Living a life that gathers no regrets is something we all want, but as years, events, experiences pile up, it’s harder to to come by — at least with a straight face. The truth is, we each have our own vision of how we wanted our lives to be and how they actually unfolded. As years add up, so do regrets. Whether they are productive or unhealthy often is not the point. Yet, they still have a way of elbowing into your consciousness, invited or not. They become like an accusatory Jack-in the Box, gleefully popping up with a laundry list of things you did or didn’t do and once it starts, it’s hard to shut up.
One of the biggest regrets of life, I think is a sense of having gone on the trip, but missed the adventure. Gary Haugen
The complicated, worrisome year we’ve all lived through is cause enough for mental review. More than ever, we realized just how precious life is — and how short. The obvious fragility of life was a newsreel re-run over and over through months of a pandemic. I suspect many of us, seeing very real mortality all around us, were treated to inadvertent flashbacks of our lives, enabling regrets to saddle up for rando visits. I’m that kid who, instead of pressing ESC, say ‘hold my beer’ (as if I actually drank), and settle in for masochistic doomscrolling of all my failures.
Recently, I was treated to an insomniac night of life review on an endless loop. I saw a 19 year old girl supporting a husband through college instead of fighting for art school, obviously not the smartest decision I ever made on many levels. As years spin by, I saw relationships I should have run from with my hair on fire, or left long before their expiration date. I’m a slow learner. I was starkly reminded of how parents’ threats of distancing and disapproval shaped my life as well as any confidence or idea of myself long into adulthood. I saw all the chances I didn’t take, in living color. All the places I never saw, risks I never took and the chicken-little fear that controlled it all.
Living in regret will become your biggest regret. Bill Johnson
When I’ve just about had all I could take of the regret reel, I noticed a few things that didn’t make the list. (thank goodness). As a mom who leaned a whole lot more toward huggy helicopter than neglect, I skipped that one. Ditto with grudges, not nurturing relationships, giving too little time to family or friends, not apologizing or saying thank you. Whew. Thank God I did some things RIGHT. Most of all, there’s one regret I’ll never have – marrying the love of my life, knowing he had cancer when we tied the knot. The years with him, while not always easy, were also the most important.
Time moves faster every day — or so it seems. As we slide into our later decades, we can almost hear hours on this planet ticking away. Maybe that’s why, on a sleepless night, flipping through the imaginary scrapbook of your life, you realize ‘OMG, I forgot to help build that house for Habitat!’ You didn’t donate enough food, blood or donations and, as hard as you look, you can’t find any measurable impact you made on the planet. As much as we want to kick regret in the teeth, we know the road does NOT go on forever. YOLO is both a happy acronym and a morose reminder. If this year, when everything seemed more fraught and fragile, taught us anything, it’s that life is precious – but it’s also fleeting.
Living with regrets is like driving a car that only moves in reverse. Jodi Picoult
In the end, we can’t go back. Ever. The past is over and we made decisions based on what we knew at the time. What we learned from our experiences helped us make better choices the next time. Regret leaves us stuck. It can be toxic and in the end, useless. As one who’s had my share of ‘dark night of the soul’ soirees, I can attest to that. That still won’t stop them from paying me occasional visits but I found one way to quiet down the mental chaos and makes use of my inordinately huge cache of photos. Wandering down my visual memory lane, exposes times of happy, sad, funny, poignant and everything in between. Basically, everything that make up the totality of life, not just the minuses.
So what is our legacy? I guess those we’ve loved, who’ve loved us in return, will write that story. Until then, remember that the ‘road not taken’ might have been filled with potholes.