Holy shit, this post. Scheduled for release on New Year’s. I typically crank out a concept in around two to three days. . .maybe a week if I have to dig deep. This one took like two months on account of a few recent life blows. Which obviously means it’s fucking gold. Or maybe it’s a turd smeared with cream cheese icing. I’ll go ahead and tell you it was harder to write than, say, if a gangly intoxicated 120 lb. Irish hooligan popped a Molly after watching Rocky, and summarily attempted to fist fight an Angus bull and a silverback gorilla inside a pub urinal where somebody had just spilled a barrel of K-Y Jelly. Anyway, let’s do this.
Some years ago, during a pleasant conversation in a downtown bar, a tipsy stranger posed a simple and direct question to me.
What do you regret the most?
At this point in my life, I had started to become fairly versed in open communication, the art of conversation, and all that crap. I must confess I was a bit shocked that I didn’t have an answer, even after a few seconds of awkward silence. I didn’t want to say “I have no regrets” and sound like a pompous asshole, especially since I wasn’t absolutely positive that no regrets existed. But damned if I couldn’t think of a single thing that I regretted.
I mean, hell, I had moved and worked more jobs than I could count, I had been through a divorce and a broken engagement, my kids lived four states away, I had taken a crack at a promising music career in Nashville that had crashed and burned, a subsequent local attempt had also crashed and burned, I didn’t start a solid “real world” career until my 30’s, I would be in debt for the education for said career for decades, and a whole host of other typical shitty life experiences. And yet, no regrets?
Considering the fact that the majority of my life up to that point had essentially been spent in a state of bitter pubescent angst and total hormonal regret over damn near EVERYTHING, I actually found my lack of response somewhat disturbing. When in the hell had I stopped regretting? Why? How? My friends, here’s the result of this contemplation. I’ll spare you the lamenting and the philosophical self-inquiries and cut to the chase. “When” doesn’t matter. I’ll give you the why and how. Thank you, tipsy stranger.
In my humble opinion, regret is closely related to the incessant human need for everything in life to mean something. If you fail a test, does that mean you’re an incompetent idiot? If you’re dumped by your S.O., does that mean your worth is questionable? If you DUMP your S.O., does that mean you’re a sociopath who emotionally scars others? If somebody dies, does that mean you failed to recognize something, or to take an action which could have saved him?
Here’s an example. Once, several years ago, post-divorce, before any sort of “enlightenment,” I have my two kids for visitation. One morning I’m taking them to elementary school. I’m running late as usual and make a two-wheeled swing into (insert healthy fast food chain) to grab them breakfast. After quickly realizing the time-wasting blunder of asking them what they want, and getting three different answers from both, I make an executive decision: two biscuits and two juices. Whining ensues. Chaos begins.
I screech up to the drive-thru window. The attendant swipes my debit card, and with compassion and empathy in her eyes, as if she’s totally been there, she reports I do not have enough money to cover their breakfast. We then proceed to a real life version of The Price Is Right, frantically subtracting and adding shit until my debit card covers it. Total tally: two biscuits, and they’re splitting a juice. To boot, I forget the &*#! jelly.
They scarf down their biscuits and share the juice while I weave in and out of traffic like some Grand Theft Auto heist to get them to school on time. Easy, now. They’re buckled and secure, and I’m only going like thirty over the speed limit. I drop them at the school’s front door. As soon as they’re inside, I enter full meltdown mode. Here comes the meaning: I’m a terrible father, my kids are starving, I can’t get them to school on time, they’ll have a shit day, I’ll never have control of my finances, I suck at life, and that godforsaken jelly! I call my (then) girlfriend who was like a second mom to them. She promptly shoots down every false story I’ve just fabricated. Of course I don’t listen because I’d rather make love to my mind’s shit stories about my identity.
But the simple truth is I didn’t have enough money for a full breakfast, my kids were fed before school, and we made it on time. Period. Any other details were garbage meanings attached to basic facts. We humans want reasons. We want meaning. We want to know why. We put that shit on eternal replay like reruns of The Bachelor, wondering what we could have changed, what we missed, how we failed. But does that REALLY matter?
Ah, the million dollar question. Also the reason it took so damned long to write this post: How in the hell to concisely, and with purpose, explain a concept that I’m not entirely sure I understand myself? So here’s a rare instance where I pushed through the writer’s block by saying “fuck it,” getting into Zen, and writing whatever the hell came to mind. Here goes.
Recognize that there is a definable difference between what actually is, and what you think about “what is.” Say you help a sweet old lady cross a busy street, after which you’re immediately greeted by a coked up Santa Claus who gets into your face and barks that you’re a fungal rat asshole. Most people have an identity crisis here:
Am I a kind soul who helps sweet old ladies cross the street, or am I a dirty rotten yeast anal something-or-other?
Plot twist: you are neither. You just are. And before you hang your head in defeat that you’re not the former, here’s the kicker: There is immense power in just being. If you can take a moment of silence, close your eyes, breathe, and let the simple power of being grasp you, releasing any meaning you place on it, you will understand that YOU HAVE A SAY IN THE MATTER OF LIFE.
Let me give you an ageless nugget of wisdom: Sadness is sadness. Anger is anger. Grief is grief. Loss sucks. These are legitimate emotional responses to legitimate situations. It’s really that simple. Where we become disempowered is by feeding all the vicious ghosts that accompany these emotions.
On January 3, 2019, as the sun still snored, with Bad Religion’s “Sorrow” blaring on my bathroom bluetooth, I stepped into the shower, leaned against the wall, and whilst the empathetic water ran its fingers over my sagging head, I wept. Hard. Ugly. Convulsing. Snot and tears fled from my face like they were choosing kamikaze suicide over the meltdown in progress. Never mind why. Just know that given the circumstances, this response was completely appropriate. I was deeply saddened. I let every tear fall that wanted to. I let the sadness dwell within me, without resisting it. And I consciously maintained my commitment to no regrets. Then I took a breath, dressed and went to work. And it was a sad fucking day. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you want to live without regret, you must repeatedly and relentlessly sever those well-worn paths in your brain that have you asking, why? How? What could I have changed? These thought processes are absolutely useless in the pursuit of happiness. It took YEARS to carve them out in your brain, and you won’t change them in a day. It takes practice. But know there’s zero power in wishing you could change the past, and this will certainly curse your future. Maybe it turned out exactly as it was supposed to.
Of this I’m sure: In life, there are good times and bad times. There’s exhilaration, and there’s devastation. There’s ecstasy and there’s pain. And shit happens. And sometimes, life just fucking sucks. And it’s all just a beautiful mosaic of dirt and sweat and tears and broken china plates; and lessons in love; and discovery in tragedy; and weddings and divorces and births and funerals and parties and hangovers. And it all means nothing. And you can CHOOSE to make THAT mean anything you want.
Here’s to regretting nothing.
Title photo: https://www.reddit.com/r/HistoryPorn/comments/2dfdl2/a_foot_guard_passes_out_as_queen_elizabeth_ii/ (photographer unknown)
Intro photo: Tim. (REmix) by MollyBlue at https://hitrecord.org/records/1032911