So another birthday has slipped past me, thankfully. Although I don’t much like celebrating them, I do look at them as a time to assess things, to take my emotional temperature and gauge where I am, where I’ve been, where I need to be headed. And this year is no different in many ways except that I’m trying to figure out whether the regrets I’ve experienced are worth the pain and self-examination they sometimes bring.
I regret the time I’ve spent trying to unravel the riddle of why people close to me chose to wound me with their words, for reasons I still don’t understand. I regret not always being brave enough to stand up for myself, to tell people how I feel. I regret believing certain people despite my better judgment. I regret not being a more patient driver (and honking too often, if you ask anyone in my family). I regret not always following through on things that I know I should do. I regret losing my temper too often over things too trivial to warrant such a reaction. I regret not telling the people I love often enough that I do love them. I regret that I seem to be hardwired to internalize my issues, to not reach out to others to talk things through, to not ask for a hug, a prayer, a good thought, a hand to hold.
But here’s what I don’t regret.
I don’t regret quitting my job when I did so that I could spend more time with my parents and my great kid. I got to drive my son to school and pick him up every day after I left and the conversations we were able to have – without me checking the clock because I had a deadline to meet or a project to complete or a meeting to attend – were some of the best talks we had. I got to spend every waking moment at the hospital every time my darling Dad was admitted the last few months of his life. I got to hold his hand and tell him I loved him as he slipped from the world. None of that could I have done if I hadn’t retired early when I did. I didn’t have to ask for time off from work or have to deal with corporate types who measured your worth in how many days you were there and whose philosophy was straight from a Janet Jackson song: what have you done for me lately?
I don’t regret the brief, too brief amount of time I had with the love of my life, a man who died so young with so much to give, so much talent he hadn’t yet been able to share, so much life to live, so much love to show his children. Because meeting this man and knowing that I was the love of his life too makes my heart soar at the same time as it breaks because our future ended before it could really begin. How many people, though, never have that kind of love in their life? I did and – even if it never comes again – I can live with that and never, ever regret it.
I don’t regret my ill-advised marriage (a term that always amuses my wonderful cousin, Susan) for a moment. Although it was not good on many levels, I don’t and won’t regret a moment of the pain because it gave me my great kid, my joy, my reason for being. It made me realize that my self-worth didn’t depend on the opinion of someone who valued me so little. It launched me into a life where I had to fend for myself, take charge of all the decisions and advocate for my great kid when his other parent walked out of his life. It made me stronger, braver, more resilient, more careful, sometimes less trusting but content in the knowledge that I did what was right.
So in this year of looking forward because – like driving your car – viewing things only in the rear view mirror of your life gets you nowhere fast, I want to regret less and embrace more. I want to be able to articulate to those special people (and I hope they know who they are when they read this, both friends and family alike) how much they lift me up every day. I want to write again and have someone think it’s good enough that they want to pay me for it. I want to see my great kid succeed and soar in college and beyond, living his dream and never being afraid to try, to fail, to love, to trust, to laugh, to cry, to hope.
But mostly I want not to regret anything any more. Life is too short and my time left on it is not worth wasting on the “what if” situations but better spent on embracing the “what is” scenarios. And maybe if you read this blog in a year from now, you’ll see that I’ve succeeded. I sure hope so.