This week I’d like to share a memory of mine.
Poplar Springs Dr. – Gainesville, GA
I couldn’t have been much older than ten, and we lived in a mundane, suburban house on the edges of Gainesville, Georgia – the poultry production capital of the world. I had a normal childhood playing catch and jumping on the trampoline in the backyard. But the in-ground pool in our backyard was broken and perpetually empty. I can remember descending to the bottom of the deep end to clean out leaves or swat carpenter bees with a tennis racquet. The pool never got fixed until the day we moved out.
Dad was several years into a challenging career and a life he never really chose. He felt a malaise that comes to many of us when we aren’t very good at understanding what we want in life. Mom had loneliness from being a stay-at-home mother whose husband is despondent, whose son is not good at little league baseball, and whose 2-year-old twin daughters kept her indefinitely anxious. And me, I felt empty because I wasn’t good at baseball or video games or much except school. My best friend, Preston, lived across the street. I couldn’t visit his house without smelling like cigarette smoke, and my mom often forbade me from visiting for fear Preston’s family would be a bad influence on me.
I distinctly remember one day. It must have been a weekend or a holiday, because there was no school. I woke up and went to the computer to fly simulated helicopters around a virtual city. Mid-morning, Dad asked if I’d like to go to Atlanta with him. He had a meeting I’d have to wait through, but then we could get burgers and fries at The Varsity. I hardly hesitated. Waiting through his meeting seemed unappealing and the prospect of flying helicopters all day won out; I stayed home. As the novelty of the video game wore off, of course, regret sunk in. My throat thickened as I realized I missed a whole day alone with my dad. I sobbed. I asked mom to call dad and have him come back, but it was too late.
That’s the first memory I have of adult-caliber regret, having ruined what would have been a memorable day. The incident was small enough that neither of my parents remember the day, but I felt a kind of guilt and self-anger at nine years old that still stays with me. And that’s not a bad thing. I have expectations of myself and who I’d like to be. When I let myself down, I should feel pain. Not shame that tears you apart, but guilt that shows you when you’ve missed your potential.
“Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”
Please don’t think I’m trying to teach anybody a lesson with this story, I just notice that “no regrets” has become something of a motif in pop culture. In our world that’s so focused on being happy and fulfilled, I think we could use more thoughtful sadness and disappointment, the kind that makes you think about why you’re sad and what you truly want. My dad sent me this note when I shared this story with him:
“I don’t have as much regret for that part of my life or the general course of my life now. I have learned some valuable and hard lessons … Really, I guess I’m almost proud of myself for making it through. It’s peaceful.”
Thoughtful sadness reminds us of who we want to be.
I’d love to know your thoughts on sadness, disappointment, guilt and/or regret.
Also, let me know what you think of the longer format. And the personal content. Did you enjoy this?