Several years ago (I just checked – it was 2011!) I read a piece by David Brooks in the NY Timeswhere he cited research where old people were asked about what they regretted in their lives. Brooks was surprised to learn that “Many more seniors regret the risks they didn’t take than regret the ones they did.”
This, of course, got me to thinking: What do I regret?
· There was one girl I might have kissed, but I chickened out. Another I might have slept with, but again, my insecurity took over. These two non-events pretty much charted the course of my impaired relationship mastery.
· A major regret is not meeting Kim sooner in my life, preferably in time to have children with her.
· I regret not taking a job teaching English in Athens, Greece. I was never really offered the job, and I don’t regret anything about my teaching career in Ann Arbor, but I still regret not going after the job. I was 21 and mobile.
· I regret not learning the calls of birds. A wise birder said the secret is to learn ten per week, and I do have tapes and apps to help, but I’m still working on my first ten. “Working” is, perhaps, not the best word here. This is part of a larger regret: not having a better direct sensual connection and knowledge of nature. No, I don’t know how the wind sounds different blowing through pines from how it sounds blowing through ash or oak. I can’t identify more than a few trees by their leaves, and I don’t really know how bark feels on different trees. My sense of smell pretty much disappeared years before Covid, so my knowledge/appreciation of flowers is purely visual. Perhaps I spent too much time with books. Read Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned,” which concludes:
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
· I regret not knowing my father better. Easy to blame him as a buttoned-down corporate executive, and a Canadian, to boot. And our parents then weren’t expected to be our friends, let alone, as I’m always shocked to hear, “best friends.” We had a minor break-through when he was undergoing chemo- and radiation for cancer:
The fuzz on your shaved skull
does not hide the raw and knotted
scars. Your ears and face
collapse under the new crown. You
peer from beneath the blue forehead
where they tightened the bandage past pain
to keep shut your wound. First peeling
the scalp, then this vice on your brain.
Your eyes glitter and recognize me.
An old man holds out a left hand,
marbled, dry, firm. The right
curls on the lap. We meet. We
make voices to each other. I avert
averting my eyes. You turn
from me when you shuffle
from chair to bed. I offer my
hand. You offer some fruit from
the bowl. Your tumor the size of a
plum. Why say fruit for tumors?
Plums, grapefruit, oranges, grapes.
You sleep. I study the wall:
brash trees and battles from grandchildren.
The nurse straightens a sheet,
takes things away on a tray.
For two weeks you practiced your name
on a list, first the scrawl of a boy
--my six-year-old Phillip--each
daily entry improving, blossoming
into script on the sixth day. Then
finally you mock the old flourish
I know from birthday checks, with
the slash of the t-cross cutting
down through your name.
This was supposed to be a light-hearted post, but my usual approach to writing – Ready, Fire, Aim – took it in a different direction. At this point, I don’t regret it.
As Frank Sinatra sings:
Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.