Dear L: Or maybe the phrase should be “Some Regrets”?
I’m going to be honest: my initial reaction to “no regrets” is squeamishness. I know it would be good for me. I regret far too many things, from not ordering the right thing at a restaurant to how much of my life I’ve determined based on what people might think. What I so often need is a healthy dose of perspective: I have all the food in the world at my fingertips and the money to buy it: why do I regret not eating *exactly* the right thing to satisfy my *exact* mood and craving? How’s that for a sign of the privileged life?
But, still squeamishness.
Squeamishness Reason 1: In a lot of ways, the concept of “no regrets” isn’t something I can easily understand. What does that really mean? It’s like when people tell you to “let go” of something. I think, “Ok. I let it go.” And then? It somehow comes back. What if I say, “No regrets,” and the pit-of-the-stomach feeling remains?
Basically, what does it really mean to enact an intangible concept like “no regrets” or “let it go”? This has always been a struggle for me.
Squeamishness Reason 2: “No regrets” feels so close to an excuse for embracing wrong action instead of asking for the forgiveness we so often need from others. It hit me one day a few years ago: just because I did something didn’t mean it was the right thing to do. (That should be obvious, but for some reason, it stopped me in my tracks.)
But the question remains: should I regret that action?
I spent a lot of time after your letter researching regret. It took me on a long journey through psychology, Nietzsche and amor fati (the love of fate), the movie Wild, Gilmore Girls, my Christian faith, and more.
I was very confused.
Fortunately last night, I had a book study at my house that was attended by a pastor, two elders, and a man with a terminal illness. More wisdom than my tiny living room deserved.
We were talking about pilgrimage, the journey of life. I brought up my reading about fate, about regret, about Wild and Nietzsche.
At one point, Tony, a classical musician, former lawyer, and current elder, said he has actually learned to celebrate regret. It’s not that he doesn’t have them, but it’s in those hard moments of life he looks back and sees the good that can come even from awful things, whether from his own choices or from the brokenness of the world. Moments of regret are moments where we can see God using even us to make all things new, imperfect though we are.
That’s why I like your caveat at the end: regret as motivation. To make change. To reconcile. To seek forgiveness. To work for the renewal of all things.
I know you’ll get to the East Coast one day, Lin. Maybe you could bring me?