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Saturday, March 01, 2014

"Of All The Words Of Mice And Men, The Saddest Are..."

Those of you who have been with me for a long time know that I have coined a term to describe myself when it comes to nostalgia and mementos and such things.  I often say that I am sort of Sentimentally Autistic; I didn't save the boys' baby clothes, let alone their umbilical cord stumps like some Earth Mothers do now.  I've tossed 99% of their school stuff, their projects, and the cards they made me.  Almost all of the photos I own of my children have been taken by someone else.

I'm not coldhearted; honest, I'm not.  My attachment is not often to Things.  I don't dwell on the Past.  I don't often go backward--don't visit my alma maters, don't return to former places to see what they look like now, don't care to reach out and find anyone from high school or college just to make that connection again. It's just not a priority for me.  I move on, always forward.  It's not a conscious decision I've made; it's simply the way I seem to live.

All of that made this question especially thought provoking for me:

Can you, along with Edith Piaf, say "Je ne regrette rien"?

No.  I regret things every single day!  I regret that I sat with my coffee and computer, slothing around in my chair, for far too long in the morning.  I regret the menopausal pounds that I passively allowed to pillow my belly when, if I had simply maintained a dreadmill regimen, I wouldn't feel so awful.  I regret that I keep forgetting my coupons when I go to the grocery store.  I regret that I didn't even try to keep my promise to my Grandma that I would go back to church.

Come on.  I'm human, I'm a woman, I'm a mother, and I was a Catholic.  My life is steeped in regret.  For me, however, the issue is not whether or not I have regrets.  The important thing is how to manage and react to the regrets that I feel.  For me, Regret and Guilt are twin sisters, bratty toddlers that play off of each other, whose sole joy in life is to torment their victim until he or she doesn't know whether to kick down a door or dissolve into tears.

All the small Regrets can be passed off with a sigh and/or an acknowledgment that tomorrow is another day and another chance to do better. I've finally decided that I deserve to let a lot of stuff go.  Oddly, the world continues to go on.  Babies are born, forests burn, lightning breaks across the sky, and raindrops glisten on the tips of willow leaves.  Somehow.

My one Big Regret--now crystalline, thanks to the benefit of hindsight--is a missed opportunity.  About twenty years ago, we were visiting friends in Maryland.  I was already sick of Ohio mightily, and we had talked about relocating to southern Maryland near our friends.  Rick went on a job interview while we were there.  Completely unexpectedly, they called back and offered him a position.  We were completely unprepared, and now that our Someday Plan was Today's Reality, I found that I was terrified.  The logistics of the whole thing intimidated me, and I found I couldn't even think straight.  I was no help at all.  Rick turned it down, saying the timing wasn't right.

I look back now and see so clearly that I blew it.  That was our chance, and I blew it.  Twenty years later, and here we are, still stuck.  Has it been terrible for twenty years?  Oh, by no means.  Not at all.  But it would have been better, I think, someplace else.  I think we may have had more opportunities for the boys, too.  But it's done and gone and that's the end of it.  Honestly, I only think of it occasionally, and then sort of shrug my shoulders and sigh.  What else can I do?

Life is full of regrets.  How can anyone say honestly that he or she has never wished to have done something else, or done something differently?  Your true strength shows when you face that regret and acknowledge it without letting it hold sway over your life.

As always, I'm eager to hear your discussion in comments.  Please join the fray.

*Note to my email subscribers:  Feedburner is having problems. I apologize for the delay in delivery of yesterday's post.

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9 comments:

  1. I tend to save things for a while, then go on a cleaning frenzy & toss them. We simply don't have room to keep a bunch of sentimental stuff.

    I have such a terrible memory that I don't have a lot of regrets either. I do regret that I have put on so much weight - but really that's something I can still change.

    One thing that's not a regret - but that your story brought to mind - is a job that Mike didn't get. It was due to nepotism - he was clearly the best candidate, and at the time we were bitterly disappointed. He's still bitter - but I know that I wouldn't have been all that happy with where we would have had to live if he'd gotten the job. BUT he would have made a lot more money which would have eased our financial burden quite a bit.

    My regret, though is that he often can't see past the "they done me wrong" to know that we ended up in a better place. Sure money is tight, but other than that I think we're so much happier here.

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  2. "Regrets"...hhm.

    I'm 63 and when people ask me if I regretted anything in my life, I used to say, that yes, I regretted only having two children and I regretted not having become an urban planner.

    But then I realised that IF I had REALLY wanted three children, I would have had a third, and IF I had REALLY wanted to be an urban planner, I would have actually done something like go to graduate school and get a masters in Urban Planning.

    So, no, there's really nothing I truly regret.

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  3. I'm with Phoebes in Santa Fe. There's a fire that burns inside each of us, and the stuff we really, really want, we manage to achieve, although it may not be as perfect as we expected it to be. It isn't worth playing the could have, would have, should have game because... in hindsight, most of what we do might have been better in some way. And that's where I'm with you, as well: we can't let un-done things from the past poison the present or future. Because the worst regret would be spending one's life regretting everything. (Regrettably, lol, a lot of people do that.)

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  4. My regrets come down to situations in which I trusted the advice of individuals who, I now realize, didn't have my best interests at heart. I was young, naive-- and with the proper guidance could have ended up somewhere different than where I am now.

    That being said, I shrug and go on doing that which I have in front of me. No time to dwell on the past. I lived, I learned.

    And now I just laugh about it all.

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  5. Oh, I have found a kindred spirit! I don't really save much of the kids' things, nor do I make scrapbooks or anything like that. Heck, I don't really even take pictures because I like being in the moment, and I feel pictures can take you out of the moment.

    I think my biggest regret is allowing my family to treat me in a certain way, instead of calling them on their bullshit, so to speak. But I was so entrenched in that "youngest sibling" mentality where it was sort of a natural extension for my mother and sister to try to always control what I did. I began rebelling a year or so ago, and I should have started sooner.

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  6. Gina--Your first paragraph describes me and my attitudes perfectly.

    I think it is a common family phenomenon that, when a person gets together with his/her family, he/she regresses back to a certain age or ranking in that family. Especially if the family hierarchy was always very rigid. I've seen it an awful lot. It happens once in a while in our family, but usually in a nurturing sense.

    I'm glad you're advocating for yourself as an adult now. It's important to present yourself as exactly what you are: a wife, a mother, and a co-head of a household. They need to recognize and respect your position.

    Ally Bean--How true. It's important to me to realize that, when the time came, I made the best decision that I could with what I had at the time. Things look vastly different later, but that's Later. As I said, it's all how we react to those regrets. Shrug, laugh, sigh--as Al Franken's character Stuart Smalley used to advise, "Face it, Trace it, Erase it."

    Ortizzle--Yep. And let's face it, too. Some things are just easier to regret than do something about. I feel bad about my belly fat, but am I joining Planet Fitness or religiously working at it right now? No. I sigh a lot, feel regretful, and pour another glass of Chardonnay. Oh, I do a few virtuous things, but nothing really concentrated.

    But the Big Stuff that I wanted in my life? It got done.

    phoebes in SF--It's true. Personally, I cannot imagine wanting more than two children, but okay. LOL. And, you can still go back to school and become an urban planner, but how much do you really want it now? Regret is a wasted emotion, I think. It's not productive, and it doesn't provide any growth or benefit. It's paralyzing and harmful.

    Bug--I do the same thing, and I've only once or twice regretted tossing something. Usually it's a pair of shoes or a shirt that I could have worn with something that I unearth. I always manage to get over it.

    Your anecdote about your husband is what I mean when I say it's all how you deal with it. I hope he comes to terms with it soon, too. That sense of outrage that is born of frustration and unfairness/injustice can really eat away at you, haunt you, even. Rick can be the same way. It's tough to let go, but in the end, you're doing it for yourself.

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  7. Right now I regret that we didn't save more for our daughter's college education. But our financial situation has always been such that our savings would not amount to much, and the prices have gone up so fast, I don't know that it would matter anyway. Sigh.

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  8. Oh my gosh, Nance, this post--and accompanying discussion--is another great one! I read long ago that guilt is a wasted emotion and that really resonated with me and I pretty much let things go now, but I do have two regrets. One is always kind of lurking back there despite my best intentions, but the other pops into my head from time to time and it did when you mentioned the job opportunity in Maryland.

    When I was a teacher, one year I decided to do tutoring for the summer. I put an ad in the paper and the very first call I received was from a man who wanted a tutor for reading. I am almost embarrassed to tell this story really. He didn't know how to read and he asked if I could tutor him. I was a third-grade teacher. I had never taught anyone to read "from scratch." I think I stumbled over my reply saying just that and the call ended without me getting this man's name and number (long before caller ID). In hindsight, I would have done that and set him up with another teacher friend because I would not have felt skilled enough to teach him how to read. So I have always wondered if he made that one call and just gave up. I truly hope not.

    My other regret is that I never made a baby book for my son. The baby book and everything that is supposed to go in it is still somewhere in the back of the closet. I just never was motivated to do it. I'd like to think I have an excuse in that I had a mild case of postpartum depression, but I don't know if I would have done it. Sometimes I still think I'll do it one day, but I doubt it.

    Overall, my thoughts about life are that "things work out" (as a friend says) and we all end up sort of where we're supposed to be or we make the best of things and end up pretty happy. The latest events in our life are not at all as planned or expected, but they are working out, too. Sometimes I think it's our own unrealistic expectations that give us unnecessary regrets and guilt. If we can remove ourselves and look in on our lives, so to speak, things often look pretty good. ;-)

    Shirley

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  9. Shirley--The thing about guilt is that it sometimes beats you up about the fact that you made a decision based upon a moment. And at that moment, you made the best decision you could make with what you had at the time. I don't think anyone makes a decision lightly. I don't think anyone makes a decision carelessly. If they do, then they are usually the ones not wracked by guilt later. The vast majority of us are always doing the very best we can at any given moment. I truly believe that. Your last two sentences are so true!

    J @jj--We didn't save a cent. It wasn't our college education, it was theirs. They should save for it. They had some money earmarked by relatives that was put into an account, but other than that, they worked and got scholarships and loans. It sounds terribly cold, but that's the way I feel. I'm happy to bail them out here and there as they go along, or buy them things they need, but I won't go into debt myself for their college, and like you, it was impossible to save significantly in the early days for it.

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