I began reading The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister yesterday. Chapter 1 is entitled ‘Regret.’ Joan begins by telling the reader that one of the things we tend to do as we grow older is a review the chronicle of our life. While there are productive things that can come from this review, it is mostly exhausting to rehash the list of things we should have or should not have done. Joan says passing judgement on yourself can leave you depressed.
Far better to look at the person you have become and say to yourself, “If I had not taken all the steps I did along the way, would I be the person I am today?” While it is true that more than one road might take you to the same destination, if you are content with the destination you have reached, then you have nothing to regret.
About 30 years ago, I joined a 12 step fellowship, and one of the steps was to take a personal inventory. After that, you were to take a daily inventory and when you were wrong promptly admit it to the person you had wronged. I can’t say I did that perfectly, but it did teach me to stop worrying about being “perfect.” My initial inventory allowed me to deal with my past which at that time involved a failed marriage I contracted at age 17, and a relationship with another person that had ended badly. Joan suggests that criticizing yourself for a failed marriage that has ended is a waste of precious life. She says “Regret is not insight. It is in fact the sand trap of the soul.” What I must remember regarding my own first marriage is that terminating it allowed me to find a person I am, and the person who has been my best friend for almost 30 years. The other thing someone pointed out to me along the way is that I have three wonderful children from the first marriage, whose lives did indeed keep me going during the worst of times.
I got up earlier than normal this morning (around 5:00 a.m.) . I usually do my text-book reading in the morning, when my brain is fully functioning, but I had finished reading my last text-book the day before. While I was waiting for the newspaper, I turned on the TV. The channel that popped up was the one we watched last night before bedtime, and the program being shown happened to be about judgement.
The narrator was interviewing spokespersons from all the major religions concerning judgement. Each had something interesting to say. I particularly like the thoughts of the Hindu spokesperson, who said the Hindus do not believe in a Day of Judgement per se, but rather they believe in Karma, which means, ‘Life has Consequences.’ I think this is akin to the “bread on the water” thought I have heard all my life. Whatever you do along the way has effects, and the effects play out in your life and the lives of others.
Our lives are unique. Each of us has traveled a path of our own making. We might not have understood at the time why we took the step we did, but we chose the path, step by step and the consequences played out for good or ill.
Joan says, ‘The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.”