Regrets fade away when we realize we can live like we always wanted to live.
Fresh out of college with a degree in Journalism, I landed a job with a local newspaper. Since we had a small staff, I spent a lot of hours after work writing feature stories or editing local news.
One afternoon as I sat in my office finishing an article, a young woman dropped by to invite me to dinner. I didn’t think I had time, so I declined and ate a peanut butter sandwich at home instead.
I don’t remember now what the article was about, but I still remember the woman’s round, sweet face, the fact that she had two young boys, and the discovery several years later that she divorced her husband.
I wish now I had accepted that dinner invitation and every other invitation I didn’t think I had time for. I wish I had made people a priority instead of wasting time being too busy for them.
Deciding I wanted to travel, I quit the newspaper job and went to work as a flight attendant. During a layover in Miami, a pilot invited me to dinner and a show.
We sat near the front, and halfway through the show, the star performer summoned me on stage. I hesitated, but the pilot encouraged me to go. As I stepped forward, the audience clapped and cheered. I could have had fun on stage, but instead of enjoying myself, I was self-conscious and shy.
I wish now I had smiled and laughed and danced without self-consciousness, enjoying that unique moment in time when I was young and pretty. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about not being good enough.
My father and I were never close. I always believed my sister was his favorite, and that kept me from trying to get to know him better. He was also away from home a lot working, golfing or playing cards with his friends.
Later, after I moved away, he had a stroke. He sat in his recliner, unable to work or play golf. When I visited my parents, I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. But that was all. We had never established the habit of conversation, so I didn’t try to communicate with him. He died quietly at the age of 92, his mind still sharp.
I wish now I had asked him to tell me his stories. What was his life like during the Great Depression? Was he afraid or did he feel like a hero when he enlisted to fight in the war? What was his opinion of each of the presidents elected during his lifetime? Did he have goals and dreams I never knew about?
I wish I had gotten to know him better.
During my years as a young mother, I met another young woman from a different culture who suffered from a serious incurable illness. She asked if I could drive her to doctor’s appointments, or to the hospital when the severity of her illness warranted hospitalization.
I drove her a few times, and she said she wanted to give me a gift. The gift turned out to be an old dress from her closet, the scent of her perfume still clinging to the dress. I was insulted and began to think she was using me; taking up my busy time when she could catch a cab or get her husband to take her to the doctor. She doesn’t appreciate my time if she can’t think of a better way to thank me than this old dress, I thought. I’m ashamed of those feelings now.
I wish I had not been so judgmental and lacking in compassion. I wish I had treasured the dress and continued to drive her to the doctor as often as she needed to go.
Many years ago, before I had a husband and children, I decided to drive with a friend all the way around the island of Puerto Rico.We left San Juan with a full tank of gas and a spirit of adventure.
But as we drove for hours along winding, increasingly isolated roads with no motel in sight, fear and irritability replaced our good spirits. A night darker than any I had ever seen blotted out everything except the faint beam of our headlights.
Abruptly the road ended. She slammed on breaks, tires spinning in sand at the edge of a beach. We could hear but not see the ocean churning in front of us. “This sucks. We could have driven straight into the ocean,” I said.
“Quit complaining so much,” my friend snapped back as she maneuvered the car onto the road. Our round-the-island trip ended in San Juan in a motel, where we collapsed and slept until noon. Our friendship didn’t survive the adventure.
I wish now I had jumped out of that car, if only for a minute, when it skidded onto the beach. I could have seen a glittering canopy of stars strewn against that blackest of nights and glimpsed the invisible ocean.
Life doesn’t offer re-dos. That’s why I regret the times I spurned friendships, lacked compassion and gratitude, overlooked opportunities or failed to live with the enthusiasm and abandon of those who aren’t ruled by what other people think.
But the good news is, each day of our journey presents new opportunities. Regrets of the past fade away when we realize that today we can live like we always wanted to live. We can decide this minute to dance, to listen, to care, and to embrace each unique moment in time, even when it means jumping out of the car to glimpse the ocean.