On Regret

Edith Piaf might have been wrong. I’m not sure it’s possible to live a life without regret but in many ways it might just turn out be a useful emotion in the end.

This one bites. Regret is a slow-burn of paths not taken and wrong choices made. We all regret things we’ve done but the majority of us tend to most regret actions not taken – those things we didn’t do when we had the chance.

It seems that time is in charge here as we try to use hindsight to fix mistakes, looking ever backwards, while the clock ticks on the time we have left. If something is fixable we can find a lesson to learn and maybe even a silver lining. We can say ‘at least I tried’ if we take the wrong job. And during a global pandemic I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I had hugged people more, or appreciated the little things like busy coffee shops or packed concert halls. I aim to be better at this in the future. But there are things that time won’t allow to be changed; such as choosing whether or not to have children, or training to become a sports star. And it is then that regret becomes toxic, because it’s too late.

We all tend to focus on the path not taken – the one strewn with flowers and sunshine and happiness – and then we become trapped and unable to move forward with hope. We see that path in those shining colours even though it is impossible to tell. There are no second chances, this is our one and only life.

A moving book called ‘The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’ was written by Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, who talked to her patients as they came to the end of their lives and found that regret came up again and again. For men it was working too hard. For most it was not finding the courage to stay true to themselves. One patient simply says “I wish I had allowed myself to be happy.”

Incredible to think that we might look back on life and wonder why we didn’t see happiness as a choice. Sitting in our mistakes and regrets can teach us lessons and bring opportunities to do better next time, that’s true, but we need to stand up at some point and face the sun again. Roads not taken, paths that light the way, love that awaits around the corner.

Because time rolls ever on as days become days become days. Life is full and confusing and surprising. It is life in all its fulness. Let’s live it.

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