Regrets? I’ve had a few. Actually, quite a few. Ok, maybe even boat load, a ton. Certainly not “too few to mention.” My regrets come in all shapes and sizes, spanning over a half century. And yeah, I did it My Way, but sometimes that wasn’t the best way.
I recently listened to a This American Life podcast with Ira Glass, Regret’s, I’ve Had a Few. You can listen to it here. It’s pretty fabulous. There’s a lot of Frank Sinatra’s My Way in the podcast. “My Way” is just one of those songs that everyone of a certain age knows. It is hard for any BA50 to hear the song and not chime in. Who among us can’t finish this phrase?
“But through it all, when there was Doubt….”
That’s right,let it rip: “I ATE IT UP AND SPIT IT OUT!”
In the American Life podcast, Ira Glass points out how absolutely ridiculous the words to “My Way” are. No one leads their lives without regrets, because that is precisely what the human condition is about- we are faced with decisions, and we often make the wrong ones. Sometimes the decisions we make don’t turn out for the better, sometimes we simply really screw up. And always, no matter how good the result, we have doubts. And those decisions, however small or seemingly inconsequential they are- they stay with us. Those are the ones we remember. The ones we regret. Those are the ones that haunt us.
Should I have really gone to law school? Should I have lived in New York City for a time when I was young? Should I really have made Tab the drink of choice of my childhood and Diet Coke the drink of my adolescence? Did I really eat that entire quart of peanut butter chip yogurt?
When I was a little girl, I led my two little brothers around the house with instruments, as if we were in a marching band. I was in the lead, and had a heavy metal bell from a living room side table (I took the best instrument, of course). We marched around the house, through the kitchen, the den, the living room, me in the lead, singing loudly (not “My Way”, that would have been weird– it was likely a Davy Jones classic) knocking our instruments for effect lightly on furniture to make noise. As we rounded the dining room, I knocked my metal bell, just a little too hard, on the window, and it shattered. Game over. I said nothing, and closed the curtains.
A few weeks later (we didn’t use the dining room much) my mother found the broken window. I blamed the whole thing on my youngest brother. He had the metal bell. He didn’t mean to break the window; it was an accident, we were playing, he was just following my lead, perhaps I was a little bit at fault because I made up the game, but he was young, he didn’t know better.
I got away with it. But I’ve felt guilty ever since.
But it’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. I was a practiced liar, but my mother could always see right through me. This time, I lied and I got away with it. The shame and the guilt stayed with me, even today.
I wish I could say that this is the only thing I regret (that one is so easy!)—I regret stuff pretty much at every stage of my life- elementary school, high school, college, law school, and especially the many, oh so many, parenting mistakes I have made, early on and as the kids became teenagers, then adults. I won’t get into them here- they are all too personal, too private, even too painful. But each one stayed with me, formed who I am. Without regrets, who would I be?
I figure midlife, and especially during the holiday season, is a good time to take stock, try to remember what we regret and why we regret it. Face our regrets, learn a little bit, then file them on a virtual shelf in a box labeled, “Shit That Made Us Who We Are.”
We will hopefully all be traveling down a few more highways in our second chapters, and while we won’t be able to eliminate the regrets as we do it Our Way, perhaps if we remember the old regrets, we can minimize the future ones.