I had several possible R posts – R is for reflection, R is for risk, R is for reward, R is for The River – one of Bruce Springsteen’s best albums. I settled on regret.
One of the reasons I visit so many cemeteries is to be in the presence of the dead, those who lived and died before me, who undoubtedly faced some of the same questions I wrestle with:
- What do I want to do with my life before I die?
- What does it mean for me to live a good life?
- If I died today, what would be my biggest regret?
Going to prairie cemeteries and being among all the dead settlers is sobering. I didn’t die of diphtheria or suffer crushing melancholia from the incessant prairie winds. I have a tremendous amount of advantages in my life. So the cemetery visits do remind me to be thankful and cultivate gratitude.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I might die with regrets. I have regrets right now. There are decisions I made, things I said (or didn’t say), opportunities I didn’t pursue or risks not taken that I wish I had. Sometimes I wallow in my regrets, believing that if I’d taken other paths I’d be living a glamorous, exiting life with no hardship or pain. (This says more about my inherent need for control than anything – there is no such thing as a life without some hardship or pain, no matter how many “right” choices we make.)
Then I remind myself that the past is gone and can’t be changed. Perhaps a better response, instead of regretting what I did or didn’t do, is to appreciate how those decisions have shaped who I am right now, healthy, happy, writing. All of the causes and conditions in the universe have led to this moment.
So the question instead is, what are you going to do with this moment? And the one that follows it? And the one that follows that? I’m thankful for the writing I’ve done. I’m grateful for the choice I made to keep writing. I choose to follow this path, at least for the next many moments. I’m sure there are still things I’ll regret, but writing isn’t one of them.
(PS – I haven’t read the book mentioned in this post, but I like a lot of what’s mentioned here about the top 5 regrets of the dying, so I thought I’d share.)