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Inside looking out: Facing the truth about regret

He was on his deathbed with nothing more to think about except what he didn’t want to think about, but he knew before the last few beats of his heart, he had to speak the words that were more final than death itself.

“You know what I regret the most?” he whispered to his wife. She gently squeezed his hand.”

“What is it, my dear?” she asked.

“I should have worked more hours at the office so I’d miss more time with you. I should have bought that BMW instead of putting the money toward Janie’s college. I should have never gone to all of Brian’s baseball games when I could have gone out with my friends.”

She laughed out loud and gently squeezed his hand again, appreciating his customary sarcasm, acknowledging his manner of saying exactly the opposite of the truth he had lived.

“You know what else I regret?”

“What’s that, my dear?”

He turned his head and looked into her eyes.

“I should have loved you more with all my being, with every ounce of my soul and I regret that you loved me back with more than I deserved.” He squeezed her hand with what strength he had left. She kissed his lips and spoke into his ear those three words that they had said every morning and every night to each other for the past 48 years.

According to an Arab proverb, “Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and the neglected opportunity.” Regret could quite possibly bring us the most emotional pain from anything else we feel in our lives. What we did and what we didn’t do often defines who we are and how we will be judged by others. Regret keeps us awake at night staring at the ceiling. Regret brings us a great disturbance, especially when we see others succeed at something because they took that chance, and against all odds and ignoring everyone’s advice, they climbed that mountain to the very top.

But what if we can’t handle the suffering we can get that comes with false regret? Portuguese poet Fernando Passoa wrote, “The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd - The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these halftones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”

As imperfect human beings, we can handle most kinds of failure. We get through divorces. We get a new job after being fired from the last one. We recover from bankruptcy. We can live with failure, but regret’s another animal that can claw apart our motivation to face another day.

Yet, it is in what we decide not to do that can haunt us for the rest of our lives. English poet Ted Hughes wrote, “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

We should never let regret consume our lives. We must shake off missed opportunities and move on, according to American writer Jodi Picoult, who wrote, “My dad used to say that living with regrets was like driving a car that only moved in reverse.”

Putting it in a different perspective, American scientist Steve Maraboli said, “We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”

We fear taking chances that we’ve been told are doomed to fail. The grass is really not greener on the other side. The chance is too risky; we’re better off staying where we are and keeping what we have. If we should take that risky chance, all we could be left with is an eternal darkness from which we might never again see the light of day. Someone close to us will inevitably say, “I told you so. You wouldn’t listen to me,” words that slice like a knife right through the heart of what’s left of our fragile spirit.

American novelist Libba Bray wrote, “We all do things we desperately wish we could undo. Those regrets just become part of who we are, along with everything else. To spend time trying to change that, well, it’s like chasing clouds.”

Yet we all realize that to achieve that dream burns a fire in our hearts that we can’t seem to ever extinguish. The athlete is told he’s too small. The singer is told she’s not good enough. The young man is told he could never become the president of the United States. The 75-year-old woman is told it’s too late to go to college.

Country singer Martina McBride sings, “You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach and you know it might never come your way.”

She says, “Dream it anyway,”

If we have the courage to take the chance, then we have to accept the responsibility for whatever the outcome will be.

And if we don’t take that chance, well then, all we’re left to think about is what might have been.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com.