Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
~ Paul Anka
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had more than a few.
But I’m still not going to mention them.
I think we all spend a lot of time, maybe too much time, looking back. Our memories are always with us, and on occasion, they are an excellent place to spend some time. Happy memories of fun times with friends and family; some of whom aren’t with us anymore.
Sometimes our memories are a safe and comfortable cocoon we can wrap ourselves in when times get hard. Other times, they can be an entertaining source of stories to share with current friends and family.
And there are those memories that are like a black hole we want to cover up and run away from. Those times we want to shove into the back of the closet in that old battered suitcase, shut and lock the door and never go back. The memories we would just as soon forget.
But you can’t.
And you shouldn’t.
Because that is where life’s most valuable lessons were learned. Sometimes those times were the result of bad choices that we never made again. Other times, they were just how life works. Loss. Grief. Hopelessness. Sadness or fear that seemed to consume us at the time and threatened never to let us go.
But they did let go. Or we learned to work through them. Put them in the past. Add them to that endless series of memories that make up our lives.
And that is the crucial point here; they make up our lives. They are not only who we were, but who we are.
You wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t been where you’ve been.
Life is an endless series of choices; of forks in the road. And none of us face the same decisions in the same order at the same time. That is what makes us different. Each of those choices changes something deep inside and affects every option in the future.
There was a game we played when I was a kid. It was made up of a bowl-shaped device of concentric circles. You and your opponent loaded marbles in the top ring, then took turns turning the circles inside. The goal was to get all your marbles in the bottom before the other player.
Sometimes, a single turn would send all your marbles cascading into the center. It felt great, like a victory. But it wasn’t that single move that won the game. It was a result of all the previous turns; every click that came before. Anything done differently would have led to a different outcome.
As Sting said, “Every breath you take and every move you make.”
That’s how life works. It’s a series of events, each one made up of and affected by everything that came before.
Definitely. I wish I hadn’t said that. I wish I hadn’t gone there. I wish I hadn’t done what I did to whoever I did it to.
But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
And I am pleased with who I am today. I’m not perfect, but then, I don’t even know what that means. What is perfect? Who is the perfect human being? Certainly not me. But I’m pretty good. I’m good enough.
A lot of people like me. A few love me. A few others would cross the street to avoid me if they see me coming. But that’s them. I’m me. And I’m relatively happy with that.
That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t change anything. But for me to be different now, I would have had to make different choices in the past. And each of those different choices then would change who I am now. It’s a circle.
And just maybe, the choice I would have changed to make that difference would have changed other things. The law of unintended consequences is always lurking in the shadows waiting for us to take one wrong step.
I’d like to be thinner and in better shape. Maybe if I had never stopped running. But my decision to stop running was made in part due to a failed attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I made several decisions that day, which cost me the 38 seconds I needed to qualify.
But on that same day, I spent a lot of time with the woman who would become my wife. We shared our first kiss. If I had run one minute faster, that might not have happened. And that would have been a tragedy I can’t even put into words. Or I could have begun a long habit of running Boston, which might have ended tragically in 2013.
Choices. Directions. Unintended consequences. The marbles cascading through the intertwined circles of our lives. Each one determining who we are today and along with future decisions, who we will be in the future.
Some choices and events in our lives loom larger in our memories. Some things we have done or said come back to haunt us again and again. They seem to be the defining moments of our lives, but who knows?
The smallest forgettable moment could have just as easily been that moment. Or changing that thing we regret so deeply may have led us to a completely different place and time. Better? Worse? Who knows, but certainly different.
Five minutes or so ago, you decided to read this article, and I am genuinely grateful for that. And I hope reading it changes you in some small way for the better. Maybe, it will help you lose some of your regrets of the past. Perhaps, it will affect your decisions in the future.
And what if you hadn’t read it, what then? You wouldn’t respond with a comment that makes my day better. Maybe instead you would have left your house five minutes earlier. And got hit by a bus. Or bought the winning lottery ticket instead of another loser.
But you did read it. And hopefully, both our lives are just a tiny bit better because of it.
So, think of the past. Remember the things you have done that make you proud and the things you have done that make you sad, angry, or ashamed. Learn from your past when you can and hide in it when you need to. Allow that song, sight, or smell take you back to a better or worse time than where you are now.
But don’t waste your current time with regrets. You can learn from what you did, or didn’t do, but you can’t change it.
And that’s a good thing.
Because you wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t been where you’ve been.