My father used to say : worrying is like paying interest on a loan you’ve not yet taken. He also told me : it’s better to be happy than right. He was a bon vivant, a philosopher, a philanthropist, a poet. Once, while shaving, the Muse whispered in his ear…he grabbed a pen and wrote a poem, right there on the bathroom wall.
Many a happy hour were spent watching the sunset and musing on the vicissitudes of life. Also drink and dialing loved ones around the world regardless of the time difference, because he couldn’t wait to tell them that he was thinking of them, that he loved them, to share his reflections or a bawdy joke.
When he left us at the ripe old age of 85 it was a huge loss. But I found comfort knowing that he lived a full life, that he did everything he wanted to do. A life without (too much) regret.
I was speaking recently with a long-time friend who carries the heavy weight of regret with him every day. He was married for twenty years, the last ten of which were filled with strife.
« If I’d gotten out sooner…. » he lamented, « I’d still be a young man.»
« You had hope that things could be salvaged. »
« All that time wasted… » he looked into the distance.
« It was a learning experience. You grew as a person.»
He gave a deep sigh and shook his head, inconsolable.
« It’s in the past. You have to move on.»
Watching this friend struggling to find joy, being eaten away by regret was a wake-up call for me.
Like everyone, I have regrets, but I realize now that holding on to them is a crushing burden that I don’t need to bear. I want to live in the present not replaying the sadness or disappointment of a past action or worse, inaction.
When I wrote the word « regret » the following episodes were the first to come to mind. I regret not buying a pair of purple patent-leather maryjanes that I saw in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. They were the perfect shoe, but I was unemployed at the time and couldn’t rationalize spending the money. I regret not getting on stage to dance when they asked for volunteers at the Salon de Jeux Video at Porte de Versailles. I really wanted to dance but I was self-conscious about my outfit. Lame.
I regret that I did not reach out to a friend who was ill before I lost her. I didn’t know what to say, and was convinced that I needed to write a meaningful, perfect letter, I wasted time and…it was too late.
I regret getting involved with someone for the wrong reasons. It is one of the rare times that I blatantly disregarded my instinct. I knew that were wildly unsuited from the get-go and yet, I proceeded. After several weeks of hanging out and getting to know one another through deep, soul-searching conversations, I felt him pulling away. (I always give credit where it’s due : the guy was a good conversationalist and a good listener.)
We made plans to meet up the next day, a Friday…his tone was cool. When he arrived at my apartment we greeted awkwardly and sat down to talk. I can’t recall the exact language he used, something to the effect : after all of our conversations he realized that, in fact, we were not a good match. I nodded in agreement.
This part I remember verbatim. « I think you’re great, really interesting, blahblahblah, but… I want to be with a woman who is a dirty whore and a filthy pig. And…that’s not you. » He had a slight note of regret in his voice.
*A note : I use profanity liberally so « offensive language » rarely offends me. I also have many confidants who have shared with me intimate, sometimes graphic, details of their lives which I do not judge. There is little in the realm of human relations that I find shocking.
This person and I had shared stories of previous relationships, including some intimate details, so that’s how he was able to ascertain that I was not « his type. » A dirty whore and a filthy pig.
I was glad, flattered even (!), that he realized that wasn’t me. He knew I had friends of all flavors and sexual orientations and preferences and kinks, so I suppose that’s why he felt he could be brutally honest (and extremely specific) about his true desires.
Once he left my apartment I called my three closest friends to meet me at the neighborhood pub. It’s not everyday one gets dumped in such a fashion.
An hour (and several drinks) later, I replayed the scene. When I got to the punch line, my friends stood there slackjawed, staring at me in disbelief.
Finally one guy pal said : »I didn’t think people really talked like that. » Another : « wow, you just dodged a bullet. » My sweetest, kindest girlfriend : « A dirty whore? » she shook her head. « And a filthy pig ! » chimed the others.
Throughout the evening and many more drinks, we repeated the story to friends and strangers. Everyone was taken aback. By the fifth retelling we were laughing hysterically at the dirty whore line. Perhaps trying to convince ourselves that it wasn’t so shocking, that it was normal, just another preference like being attracted to blondes or men who wear glasses.
The next morning in the sober light of day, it hit me again that I had been dumped. Yes, by an asshole, but still dumped. I called my dad for some sympathy. « Dad, I was dating this guy and he broke up with me. He told me he wants a woman who is a dirty whore and a filthy pig. » Just repeating those words to my father filled me with shame. And so it finally dawned on me that those words ARE f*cking shameful.
My father was silent for a minute and then said : « Any man who would speak about a woman that way is, himself, a pig. »
Friends, just such a man is running for President of our magnificent country.
We visited my mother in California this summer. One night we were out to dinner, a table of four was seated next to us : three women in their 40’s-50’s and a man in his 30’s. It was the night after the DNC.
I tuned into their conversation just as one of the women said : « What did you think of her speech ?» My mother and I had watched the speech together, holding my little girl (and glasses of champagne), with tears in our eyes. I returned to my dinner as the two other women discussed the merits and weak points of the speech. Then the man, the young, white man said : » Yeah, I dont know if I’m going to vote. » I had to grip the table to stop myself from turning to my fellow American and shouting : « Are you f*cking KIDDING, Dude ? »
I can’t remember the rest of the meal, only that I skipped dessert, because I was so preoccupied by this stranger’s innocuous (!) comment. I had to talk myself down several times from laying into this guy with a string of insults : « how f*cking dare you ? Privileged white male ! Do you know how much is at stake in this election ?! Not vote ?! It’s your goddamn civic duty. » My heart was racing, my blood was boiling.
When we finally finished dinner, my mother walked to the door with my son, my husband was behind them, and I followed, carrying my sleeping daughter. I got five feet away from the table and turned back. « I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation, » I said politely. The table of diners looked up, surprised. « Every vote REALLY counts….and Hillary is the only choice. » The women were quick to respond, « Oh, we agree with you ! » but I was looking at the guy. He nodded at me uncomfortably. I bid them a good evening and joined my family outside where my husband chastised me. He was mortified by what I’d done. « I can’t believe you. That was so rude. No wonder nobody likes Liberals. » « Right, sure, Babe. » I stopped myself from saying, « Guess what? You don’t vote in this country so STFU. »
I walked around the car to put my daughter in her car seat. My mother was next to me. « I had to say something to those people about voting. » She nodded. « J thinks I was out of line, but my conscience would not let me be silent. I would have regretted not speaking up.» Under the glow of the street lamp, my mother, a paragon of politesse, beamed with pride.
Friends, I pray that your lives are free from deep regret. I believe that the regret of a lost opportunity, of things not done, is more damaging than the possible dissatisfaction or discontent of a « wrong » choice. Yes, even my episode with « that person » was a learning experience. If you do carry regrets, I hope you can learn from them (if there is a lesson) and move on.
I have learned that perfect doesn’t exist, and that there is no better time than RIGHT NOW to reach out to someone you care about. (Thanks for that one, Dad.)
And, if your conscience tells you to speak up, listen to it. And finally, if the opportunity presents itself, you should always get up and dance.
Don’t forget to vote! Go shout it from the mountaintop : Nobody gets to sit this one out.
p.s. if anyone sees those maryjanes, I wear a size 8 ;)