I wanted to write about regret but I didn’t know where to begin.
Begin at the start then. Where is the start of a regret? Where does it end? I asked myself the question?
“What is the one great regret of my life?”
But I couldn’t pin-point one. Instead many moments, people, places arose before my eyes.
There were the romantic relationships. The one that should have ended long before it did and fizzled out one night over two continents and a skype connection. There was the one that might have been – a dashing young Spaniard on a square in Valencia. I had a boyfriend you see, but I was lighter and brighter for the rest of the evening after his attention, his invitation. There was the one that was over before it began, turned into a song and a pining that accompanied me halfway across the world and back.
There were the places I didn’t visit when I had the chance (I will still climb Kilimanjaro someday surely?) The Thai beaches I might have stayed instead of moving on. The places I meant to only stay a short time, but held onto me tightly and wouldn’t let me go.
Oh, the things I could have studied! Music instead of maths… communications instead of equations.The jobs I could have taken, the ones that fell through, the ones I stayed in while every day walking workwards with heavy feet and heart. The ones that waved goodbye to me slowly and the ones that shoved me aside abruptly.
Many small regrets that make up a life.
But how can I truly regret these things? These are the threads from which the fabric of friendships have been woven, the seeds from which joy and adventure have sprung. Each one a choice that led to a moment that led to a decision that led me to here.
I have a friend of over 20 years. We met on the first day of my studies in physics. Through her I met friends with whom I shared flats, backpacking adventures, dancing till dawn, commiserations over bad dates and romances gone wrong, excitement over boyfriends and babies. These friends drew me back from the sunshine of Mozambique to this damp green island, showed me a city with a new face, and just over 6 months later, a new face within that city became the love of my life.
I could have studied something that made me happier, but without that friend, sitting rows ahead of me in the lecture room, where would I be right now? Who would I be with?
I could wish that I met my husband earlier, have had our children earlier (so we would have more time with them). But then they would be different children, and I quite like those little boys who now fight over lego and who gets to be carried in their Daddy’s arms.
I tell myself, if I could change one thing, I would be braver. I would listen to my inner critic less. In my late teens/early twenties, I would worry less about disappointing my parents. Surely we all have this fear to some degree, especially at that point in our lives where we move out of home and into the world? My parents will read this now and be surprised, but this fear influenced many choices considered and not made, many paths contemplated and not taken.
Now I am not quite fearless, but the fear is so much littler.
Sometime ago, I read about a nurse who cared for dying people. She compiled a list of the top five regrets of the dying.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
I don’t think I will have these regrets at the end of it all. I’m fortunate maybe that I don’t have one great regret, one event that I wished I could take away. Instead, I have lots of little regrets that have dissolved and turned into great things, beautiful things.
But I still think of the dashing writer on that square in Valencia, leather satchel strung across this chest and a smile that almost convinced me to forget about the boy back home for a hour or two.
What an adventure it would be to embark on a romance with a handsome writer… I must try it sometime…best to regret nothing after all 🙂