I recently read a Facebook post that began with three words: “Have no regrets.” The author went on to justify this remark by reminding us that every decision we have ever made has fashioned us into the people we are today. This argument does not seem sufficient. Couldn’t we be more than we are today? Why is it wrong to imagine so?
Dictionaries define regret as a feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment over something that has happened, especially a loss or missed opportunity. I can’t imagine there’s a person alive or dead who has not experienced this wistful angst. Regret is the product of a robust conscience and a working mind. If we did not regret our mistakes, we would not learn from them. We would be something less than human.
The nice thing about regrets is that they lose no potency by being kept private. I could tell you right now what my top three are, but I won’t. They are mine. Like the small and steady diminishments that come with age, I don’t deny my regrets. I allow them, forgive them; I keep them close. Wrinkles and regrets—what can you do but give them a home?
I can’t believe there’s a purpose to everything, hidden trajectories designed for each of us. While life on this planet is held in exquisite balance, it is also random and unjust, urgent and ever-changing. Our lives are so rife with choices and hazards that regret is inescapable, maybe even an adaptation, a feature meant to foster compassion and humility.
Not that we need to be mired in remorse, mourning the options we didn’t pursue. To dwell on something is to stop moving forward. But if we own our regret, acknowledge where we might have done better, we might in fact do better. Some of the roads we could have taken are closed off now–no matter; more open up all the time.
On the virtual plane, there are many versions of myself, living out the choices I didn’t make. Life is not easy. I wish them well.