He said that he has no regrets about his life, but I wonder if that can ever really be true for anyone. Or perhaps, I wonder if that should ever really be true for anyone. It seems to be a ubiquitous theme. “Live with no regrets.”
I understand the sentiment. He meant that we make choices and that those choices create us. We wouldn’t be so strong if we hadn’t been forced to fight. We wouldn’t be so wise if we had never made mistakes to learn from. We wouldn’t be so compassionate if we had never hurt or been hurt. We can’t regret our choices because they brought us here.
Still, when he said it, I rolled my eyes. Because I think the truth is, regret has value. I think regret holds us accountable. I think it is a consequence, sometimes the only consequence, that helps us make the right choices for ourselves. Regret creates guilt. And while many argue that guilt is a useless emotion, it can, if we’re wise enough, become action. It can, if we choose to allow it, help us to amend the past and likewise build a better future. It can be important. It can make us better.
We’re told to live in the moment and embrace the “now,” to stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. It isn’t bad advice, but it also isn’t entirely practical. We need the past to help us understand the present. We need the future to help us make choices in the “now.” We need the whole scope of the road to appreciate where we are on it.
Yes, we have to keep taking steps whether we want to or not, but we also shouldn’t forget what’s behind us, and we shouldn’t ignore the possibilities before us. We have to reflect and we have to dream. We can’t live moment to moment or those moments become meaningless. We need context. We need perspective. We need time, in order to unveil, no matter how slowly, the substance of our choices.
We need regret and we need guilt, at least to some degree. We need to remember how and why we hurt others. We need to remember how and why we were hurt. We need to embrace our mistakes. We need to apologize and we need to forgive. And we can’t learn how to do either without understanding what it means to suffer. We can’t move forward stronger or wiser or more compassionate without ever looking back. We can’t exist entirely in the present because there is so much more than this moment, right now.
Our stories aren’t simple. They are layered and intricate and complex. They have a history and a present and a future. They are filled with joys and accomplishments and dreams and regrets. And all of that makes them important. All of that makes them worth telling. All of that gives them depth.
Without the low points, we are shallow. Without the regrets, our roads remain flat. Without the worry, we can never discover how strong and brave we truly are.
And that is a lesson worth learning, no matter how many mistakes we must make to get there. I understand that this is what he meant. Those mistakes teach us things. They allow us to grow. They are necessary.
Still, it’s okay to regret them, if only as a way of ensuring you never forget them. It’s okay not to feel like you can live with no regrets. It’s okay not to feel like you’re living in the moment. It’s okay to carry it all with you on the long trek of your life. It doesn’t make you foolish. It doesn’t make you less. It adds weight to your existence.
And yes, sometimes that weight feels too heavy. Sometimes it feels as though you cannot take another step. But then somehow, you do. And with each burdensome step you realize, if you’re wise enough, that sometimes – most of the time – you are stronger and more powerful than anyone could guess.