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Saturday, September 10, 2016

WHY REGRETS ARE FOR FOOLS

Years ago I wrote a story in which the elderly matriarch, an unapologetic control freak with sass to spare, told her husband, “Regrets are for fools”.  In context, there was irony in that statement; I guess I was too young at the time to realize the bald truth of such a line.  Regrets ARE for fools, and not because we don’t all do things we wish we hadn’t.  Regrets are for fools because they steal from the past to rob our present of peace.

Whenever we are facing challenges—or even if we just have an isolated negative experience—it is human nature to start flipping through the card catalogue in our minds looking for a helpful point of reference.  Have I, or anyone else I know, ever been through something similar?  What remedies, if any, were involved?  How long did the challenges or negative consequences linger?  We do this to help ourselves put things in perspective, which is healthy; what is NOT healthy is when this exploration of the past begins to devolve into woulda-coulda-shoulda.
I recently had a car accident that was an “accident” in the purest sense of the word because if any one thing in my day had gone slightly differently, it never would have happened.  The unfortunate precision of a split second in the wrong place at the wrong time precipitating chaotic results.  A crazy-making event to be sure, as my fervent (and pointless) wishes that I could go back in time and do it differently were waking me up at night.

I had a dear friend for many years who made a standard joke about these sorts of situations; she would always say that “short of becoming Superman and turning the world backwards on its axis, there is nothing you can do about it”, which both true and funny.  It’s also a great way to stop that looped conversation in your head about how you definitely should NOT have gone for ice cream on the way home by recapping the insanity of such regret.   We all wish we could be Superman, of course; but in these contained situations he is a good reminder that as humans we do not have the power to save Lois Lane from the earthquake.
This analogy becomes a little harder to both swallow and apply when we are dealing with big-picture life-path regrets—from the pursuit of a dream that never came true, to “failed” relationships, to lost jobs---now we are no longer looking at an isolated situation that could have been “fixed” by a different decision.  Now we are looking at a whole mountain of regrets and missed red flags and self-immolation for wasting our time, love and energy.

Most of us have had the experience of watching a loved one “go astray” in life—the anguish of seeing them chase a situation or relationship that to us has the most obvious neon, blinking DON’T WALK sign hanging over it.  But more often than not the situation is more subtle and nuanced than that…For many years I said that I had never been surprised by a divorce; not that I necessarily saw the relationships as “doomed”, but rather that I recognized the fractures that had the potential to rupture.  Yes, I said that many times over until it actually happened:  I was surprised by a divorce.  So surprised, in fact, that I grieved it as if it were my own.
But it taught me something very valuable:  no matter how smart, sensitive, honest and in tune we are, we can only operate on the information that we currently have.  Another friend of mine who went through an entirely less surprising divorce said something very wise about it…we are all doing the best that we can with the information that we have in the present.  For every “red flag” we may have overlooked (or deliberately ignored), there were a million other pieces of the puzzle that were influencing us in some way.  And given the entirety of the picture, we made the best decision we were capable of; hence—regrets are for fools.

As a woman now firmly ensconced in middle age—life more than halfway through, quite officially over-the-hill---I am facing some fairly big decisions about how I frame those roads I travelled that seemed to lead nowhere and the companions I have lost and am losing along the way.  Of course the easiest, most human response is to call myself a fool for chasing the unattainable, loving some who did not recognize my value and trusting those who could not respect that sacred bond.  And I have been a fool on occasion, with no doubt.  While people who genuinely care for me tried to point out the giant, blinking DON’T WALK SIGN above my head.
But much more often than that I have been brave.  Brave to try things I wasn’t sure would work, brave to go places that were not familiar to me, brave to love people who were wounded and unable to reciprocate.  Brave to say “I can do better” and “That was my fault”;  brave to admit, “I gave it my best” and “I did what I thought was right.”  Brave to face myself every day and say, “Today we will have another go at this thing called life”, in spite of heartache, exhaustion, loss and grief.  In spite of insecurity and fear.

My Father used to say, “Every day is a good day” and this is the epic truth.  The day you fail is a good day; the day you lose is a good day; the day your heart breaks is a good day.  Because you are still here and doing the best you can with the information you have.  Every day we have a new shot at this thing called life.  Don’t let regret rob you of another second of it. 
When I had that accident I thought—if I had done one thing differently this horrible event would never have been—but with life, just the opposite is true.  If you had done one thing differently you might have lost your most valuable experiences, your most important lessons, your most profound relationships.  So love all of it and all of you with no regrets.



2 comments:

  1. You make some really great points here. Thank you!

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  2. I'm not having the best of weeks so it's great to read this perspective. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete