Happy Birthday to meeee!!
As of today, I begin my 50th year. What. A. Ride!! All at once I feel pretty well-accomplished and also utterly mediocre… Married 25 years, practicing medicine 20, parenting almost 19, blogging 7. Such a thick tribe of friends, so many of whom showered me with love and attention today, OMG. So much to be grateful for, there simply are not enough words. So much love. …I might list the myriad self-diminishing comparisons here, but naah, I grow beyond such pointlessness in my advancing age.
The Book of Regrets. That was my original title for this post. Would it have grabbed more attention and views? It was an honest point of query after I listened recently to The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Oh my gosh, HIGHLY recommend! In the liminal space between life and death, the main character gets to peruse her personal Book of Regrets, and sample various alternative realities wherein she made different seminal life choices. Each path shows her both favorable and adverse subsequent events and circumstances, an infinite set of possibilities, paradoxes, and outcomes. Perspective, my friends! I think we consistently underestimate its value, or at least neglect to practice it in too many encounters and endeavors. What lies ahead that I have control over and not, and that will forever send me down this path and not another? Which of the countless choices I might make, in any given moment, may close these doors and open those? I get giddy just thinking about it—the future is so bright, so full of infinite possibilities, and I get to live into it! OMG can’t wait can’t wait!
Then again, in these 49 years, my Book of Regrets can feel quite heavy. It appears sometimes out of nowhere, dropping like a sandbag on my chest—driving to work, in the shower, looking through old photos. Within seconds I’m haplessly pinned under guilt, shame, sorrow, and remorse, sinking in the quicksand of self-loathing and powerlessness, wishing with visceral aching that I could just go back and be a better me—a much better me—in those flash moments that I will never forget, that I may never shake. Ugh.
Paging through my book more thoughtfully, I realize that every regret is relational. It’s never about not studying enough, failing a test, not achieving some goal, missing some external benchmark of success. It’s never about coming up short in social comparison to others. It’s always about hurting someone’s feelings, diminishing their self-esteem, abuse of power, and offloading or projecting my own discomfort and judgments onto others, making them suffer because I cannot tolerate or manage my own issues. My regrets are all moral failings. Oh man, it feels so shitty, looking back, surveying the damage I did, the relational carnage. Wow.
“What’s done is done.” Husband has said this since our earliest days together. I remember how freeing it felt—I still hear his voice, so clear and firm, in the living room of our first apartment, or was it a dorm room? I am, indeed, utterly powerless to change the past. Thankfully, shifting into agency over my present and future comes more easily every year of life and adversity lived. Regret is painful. And it’s inevitable. Learning is the best poultice for such self-inflicted wounds. And if I can figure a way to make amends, all the better. How could I have been a better self then, when I’m always bettering myself now? Grace and forgiveness, I know more deeply and profoundly, may be the greatest gifts we offer one another, including ourselves. My most sincere thanks to all who have granted these to me.
Peace and equanimity, generosity and humility, joy and love, curiosity and learning, connection and solidarity. That’s a good, strong list of healthy aspirations, ya?
It’s been a pretty awesome 49 years. I have received so much more than I have given. I shake my head in humble and astonished wonder. The good news is that these days, I write my Book of Regrets in shorter chapters and longer intervals.
Who knows how many more years I have? However long it is, may I compose my other Books—of Contribution and Connection, among others—with eloquence, gladness, and excellent grammar.