“Both she and I have grief enough and trouble enough, but as for regrets – neither of us have any.”
Vincent van Gogh said that. What a lying asshat.
But you hear it all the time. “Live without regrets.” “Never regret what once made you smile.” “There are no regrets, only memories.”
Honestly, what a load of absolute shit.
If people were sincere with themselves they would admit that, of course, life is lived with regrets. From the monumental to the mundane, every individual has at least one instance that evokes pure unequivocal longing for that unknown path or that second door or that road less traveled.
The notion that life should be lived without regret is nothing more than a carefully constructed web of half-truths, meant to soften the corners of a painfully-pointed recognition every individual faces when they realize they’ve fucked up.
Yes, boys and girls, regret is inevitable.
I am no exception.
I regret lying to my high school counselor. I was brought into a tiny office, wedged between her desk and an eager social worker, and shown an English paper my brother had written. He had detailed a violent night, not unlike many others, that had upset the teacher enough to raise certified and highly-trained eyebrows. I was asked questions about my home environment and my mother’s physical well-being and my brother’s words and it was a seemingly never-ending investigation into all we had worked so hard to hide. So, I lied. I spewed excuses and created fathomable fiction and assured two very worried faces that everything was middle-class, Christian family normal. If I would have told the truth and explained the bruises and let the consequences emerge, my mother would have had help and my brother would have been safer and a divorce would have happened ten years earlier. I regret lying.
I regret not letting him go sooner. Best friends-turned-lovers rarely ends well and given how shitty of a friend he had been prior to an ill-advised night on a living room couch, I should have known better. But the heart wants what it wants and it wanted him and there was nothing logic or reason or circumstance could tell me. So, while he drank twelve pack after twelve pack and slept with the neighbor I continued to believe that if I tried a little harder, cooked somewhat better, stayed home every night and remained determined, it would all get better. It didn’t. Instead I violently exploded when I found out about that neighbor and I ruined a friendship I placed value in and I let myself become a reckless, pessimistic mess. I regret not letting him go.
I regret choosing not to drive to him. It was Cinco de Mayo and I was a few tequila shots deep when he sent a harmless text asking for harmless company. Friends who can pick up right where they left off always come out of nowhere and it’s always a pleasant, welcomed surprise. But a cab would take over an hour and I wasn’t willing to risk a DUI so I told him not to worry, we would see one another tomorrow. Then tomorrow came and condolences were shared and I received a phone call letting me know that I would never be seeing him again. A bottle and a gun and a sadness so heavy he couldn’t see a way out from underneath it made sure of that. I regret not driving to him.
I regret not telling her sooner. We could both feel the friendship’s impending end and the change we were incapable of combating but when it’s your person and your secret-keeper and your partner in crime, you fight it. I kept unhappiness bottled in and said I was ok when I definitely wasn’t and forgave when it was impossible to forget. Then I let it all out in an unbridled rage filled with hurtful words and twisted facts and unending rants. If I had sat her down respectfully and ended the friendship the way life-changing friendships deserve to be ended, feelings would be different and hatred would’ve been spared and uncomfortable situations would have been avoided. I regret not telling her.
Regret, it’s inevitable.
But shouldn’t it be?
To avoid regret is to avoid living. It’s avoiding chances and people and places and situations that are uncertain. It’s abandoning who you are in a moment that’s quintessential to the you you’re sure to become.
To not regret is to say you haven’t failed and to say you haven’t failed is to say you haven’t tried. You haven’t tried being a faithful family member or a loving girlfriend or a responsible adult or a loyal friend.
Sure, your attempts were flawed and your inabilities massive but there’s beauty in every desolate downfall. There’s a hope in admitting your inadequacies. A hope that you’ll learn and you’ll grow and you’ll be better than the you you were when that painfully-pointed recognition finally hit.
We try so hard to live life without regret and I’ve never understood why.
It’s regret that makes us better.