Posted by Mike
I was out riding my bike this morning and began thinking about regrets. It seems to me that as we grow older we – some of us, at least – accumulate more and more regrets. They consist of two kinds. The first is the sort that begin with, “Why didn’t I….” “I could have….” If only I had….” I’ll bet I could have….” They relate to missed opportunities, decisions which could have been improved upon, roads not taken. The second category of regrets is those that are, I suspect, far too often neglected and pushed into the deep recesses of our minds. These are the instances or periods in our lives marked by either acts of commission or of omission, in which we injured or caused harm to another or others. It’s easy to ignore the acts of commission and far easier to ignore the instances in which we could have acted but didn’t.
It takes courage to even recognize when and how we have injured others. And it requires another big dose of courage to acknowledge it and make an effort to make up for it to others. Regrettably, human nature seems to enable us humans often to go through life using others to our advantage and then leaving them by the wayside as we move on. Definitely not the quid pro quo that I wrote about in a previous posting.
I like Alcoholics Anonymous’s manner of dealing with injuries to others. In the 12 steps Step 8 is “Make a list of all persons we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9 is “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” It’s my understanding that if amends are not possible, then comparable amending acts to deserving others would be suitable. I wonder how many of us not in 12-Step programs consider such acts of penitence and carry them out?
The first category of regrets, the “Why didn’t I….If only I had…” kind can occupy a lot of attention in middle age and later. They take up attention and energy and siphon it away from anything that could be productive. The only way in which such ruminations could be useful is that they could prompt us to act in the present to capture and utilize the previously lost opportunity. It is likely, however, that in most cases we are merely spinning our wheels.
The better approach to deal with the “Why didn’t I…” self-accusations is to have the courage to live as fully in the present as we possibly can, given whatever limitations of body, mind, or circumstance we might find ourselves faced with. Forget what didn’t happen in the past. For almost all of us, our present circumstances offer a myriad of opportunities to express ourselves, to relate to others, to be productive, to participate in community, to love. Let’s just throw the “If only I had”s out the window! Getting older and not be burdened by the past takes ability to discriminate between what to act upon and what to throw away forever – and it takes courage.
“Oh Courage, could you not as well select a second place to dwell, Not only in that golden tree, but in the frightened heart of me?” – Tennessee Williams, “The Night of the Iguana”