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.
Hi Cathy, great to see you posting again, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! As always, your posts are thought provoking. I’m curious… if you had a time machine, would you go back and change anything that you regret now? Would you right that past wrong, knowing that it could have unintended (and perhaps negative or even disastrous) consequences for the present? My view is that if you’re happy enough with your life now, then never wish to change the past, since you never know what would change. And if you accept that thought… then it’s not worth it to focus on this past regrets, other than to learn from them. I.e. the feeling of regret is only useful to motivate learning… otherwise it’s basically just self-flagellation. 😉
This reminds me of a theory I heard once about Heaven/Hell. The theory says that neither is a place you travel to. Instead, in the moment that you die, you experience the way you made everybody else feel, throughout your entire life. So if you were a jerk and made people feel bad, you now feel their pain, and vice-versa. And of course, you can feel simultaneously good and bad, b/c you probably did both good and bad things to other people. A much more nuanced view of life-after-death, don’t you think?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for this thoughtful and engaging comment! I really wonder what other readers think of your questions, and I invite them all to reply! First: YES absolutely, if I could go back and change my behavior in those most cringey and shameful moments, I would do it in a heartbeat. I’m not sure it would make a material difference in any outcomes for the people involved (perhaps if I could go back and change them *all*???), but at least I could then live forward with less recurrent self-loathing. Isn’t that fascinating? I regret that I hurt others, but my desire to to back and change it is mostly because *I* suffer from it now, years later. Huh. …”Never wish to change the past”–ya, it’s an exercise in futility, isn’t it? The past is fixed, it cannot be changed. What benefit do I get whatsoever from such wishing? I think you and I agree here–the point is to learn, not make the same mistakes again (as much as possible), and thus have less and less to regret going forward. But like I said, sandbags out of nowhere. I am a level 10 master at self-flagellation.
Ooooo, that idea of heaven/hell is totally new to me, how interesting! So I experience the totality of my impact on all lives I have touched, all at once in the moment of my own death? My first response is severe shock and apprehension, how fascinating! I mean, I think my net impact on humanity has been positive? But maybe the intensity of the negatives, as I perceive them, stands out disproportionately? I debated briefly about naming it ‘damage’ and ‘carnage,’ and elected to keep these words because the importance and gravity of my transgressions really does feel that intense when I get pinned under that damned sandbag. 😦 Huh.
More to soak in, I guess.
Thanks again for commenting, Mike! Can’t wait to catch up again soon!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you!! Hope you’ve had a fantastic summer!
Happy Birthday, Cathy! Never regret past decisions.
Thank you Mick!! 🙏🏼
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hope you had an absolutely wonderful birthday, Cathy! Those regrets are hard to shake, and maybe we shouldn’t try. Maybe we should carry them with us like badges of honor, symbols of how far we’ve come. If we never looked back and thought ”how could I ever have [said/done/thought] that?” then we’d have no evidence of how much we’ve grown and learned. What’s really sad, in my opinion, is still stubbornly hanging onto the same judgments and beliefs we had in our youth. If we haven’t changed substantially in 25 or 30 years, what the hell have we been doing? Hmmm … this just might become a blog post. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to—as Mark Twain said—take out my brain and stomp on it; it was all caked up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Ooo, Donna, yes, this is a fantastic other angle to look from! What the hell have we been doing, indeed! And, perhaps, if we look closely at some of the things that are constant, resilient, steady, and upheld, we may also find our core values shining among the rabble, yes? OH YES, I would love to read a post by you on this idea, WRITE ON, SISTER! 😀 And heeheee, taking my brain out and stomping on it–YES! Or maybe like shaking it and beating it with a broom like an old, dusty rug. 😉 Thanks for reading, my friend!!
Also, I saw this today, which resonates: “You could spend all of your time and energy in the shame and embarrassment of how you showed up before you grew and healed or you could show your past hurting self compassion. Repair where needed, and get busy being who you are now.” YES.
Onward in solidarity, learning, and growth, my friend!! 😀
I love that quote, Cathy! Do you happen to know who said it? I’ll think about writing further on the subject. I’m having such trouble with WordPress these days that it’s hard to get motivated. I have to re-register every time I make a comment on any blog, and half the time, it refuses to take my “likes.” I hear others are having the same issues.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Old Classmates, New Good Friends | Healing Through Connection
Pingback: Liberated | Healing Through Connection
Pingback: “When I Go” | Healing Through Connection
Pingback: Giddy Up | Healing Through Connection
Pingback: Books and Media 2022; Looking Up and Ahead | Healing Through Connection
Pingback: 8 and 10 Years of Healing Through Connection | Healing Through Connection