Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Regrets...I've Had a Few

My parents' 40th anniversary
Recently, I attended a thirtieth anniversary party for close friends. After the cake and champagne, we watched a DVD chronicling the couple's marriage and the family it produced. The wedding, grinning kids, vacations, celebrations, photos of a blissful union on its way to forever.

I sat in the darkened living room surprised by a twinge of emotion rare for me: envy. I've never been much for envy. I mean, what's the point? But watching that montage of unrelentingly happy occasions, I realized that young widowhood and, later, divorce robbed me of a long and photogenic marital history. And as the schmaltzy background music--my favorite "The Way We Were"-- faded, I couldn't help thinking: IF ONLY. If only I'd made other, different choices early on, maybe it would have been me up there on the screen holding hands with a generic blue-eyed, dark-haired husband of thirty years, having that perfect life.
Then the lights came on, really, because the wife, a woman who never failed to speak her mind, stood smiling wryly to announce, "And that, my friends, is the edited version."
The edited version. Of course. What we see from the outside is life Photoshopped to erase flaws, nicks and scars. The inside truth is that no one escapes pain and sadness; or as my mother used to cheerily remind me as she combed tangles from my hair, none of us gets out of this world without suffering.
It occurred to me then, as it does to so many of us at our age, that decisions made when we're young spin off life-changing repercussions. The engagement to the med school suma cum laude that I broke because he wanted to settle down and I wanted to live it up...bad move? He's probably a top surgeon today and still a sweetie. Could be, though, he's running a meth lab up in the mountains. The three-book poetry contract offered by a major publisher after my first collection got a thumbs-up in People? The contract I turned down because...God knows why? Stu-pid decision. But maybe I wouldn't have gotten to write novels, which I'm sure is my true calling.
 Say I were offered the chance to rewind my life and I took the road not taken--then what? Then I'd have "different" at the very least. Not my family which is incomparable. Not my friends, ditto. Maybe I wouldn't have experienced the stuff that turned into stories filled with laughter and spirit, or the heartbreak that left me softer, the losses that left me stronger. The thing is, I'm much of who I am because of the choices--good, bad and you've-got-to-be kidding-- I made long ago. My life and I are far from perfect. Yet I wouldn't trade us for anything or anyone else. So, regrets--I've had a few, but then again--as the song goes-- too few to mention.
How about you? Did your life turn out the way you dreamed or planned it? If you had it to live over, would you do it differently?


  1. Well, wet behind the ears little me at age 18 realized I'd met the right guy for me. And umpty ump years later, I'm still with him.

    My writing career? I've sold more than 150 books to major publishers. But in the beginning I really did lack confidence. (Because I'm dyslexic, and I was the kid the teacher called up to the front of the room so she could yell at her in front of the class for badly failing the spelling test.) That early training kept me with a writing partnership far too long when I should have been focusing on my own work.

    My biggest problem is probably still not knowing what I want to do when I grow up. So I keep trying to do it all. I'm in California for the RWA annual conference. I managed to edit 100 pages on the plane out here. And then more this morning. Luckily it's cloudy so I don't have to go out and play in the sunshine. I can stay in the room and finish editing my ms.

  2. My life did not turn out (so far)as expected, but I don't think I have regrets. Each painful twist through the years also brought great joy. I can't regret the ex husband because he gave me two wonderful sons. I can't regret joining the Army because I get Veteran's benefits to this day, but I can't regret leaving the military I loved because doing so allowed me to give my kds stability. I ended up in a strange job that I didn't even know existed and have enjoyed a terrific career. When I had to answerable psych question for that careers hat asked me about regrets, I responded that I regretted not having more kids. But now that I'm older, I don't regret that either, because I can ease toward retirement without any kids still in college! If I had to do it over again, I might wish to have found my husband sooner, but only if I could keep my sons exactly the same, which would be impossible. Life gives us what it gives us - the trick is to want what we get!

  3. Rebecca, I've read a number of your books and really enjoyed them. Editing 100 pages on your way to the Romance Writers of America Conference? Your focus is amazing. Fascinating, too, that although (or maybe because) you're dyslexic, your life's work is all about arranging words.

    Lucky you-- at eighteen finding the right man for your entire life. Or maybe smart you. Maybe you were wise enough to see something in that man that indicated staying power, a potential for growth along with your own. At eighteen? Nah. At that age, it's all about hormones. More likely, lucky you!

  4. Elizabeth, I love your comment: "Life gives us what it gives is--the trick is to want what we get." Brilliant. In most cases, how we deal with what life hands us makes for misery or happiness.

    And it's amazing how the unexpected (and frequently unwelome) detours in the path we've laid out become roads to a surprisingly wonderful destination.

    Also, as you noted about having more children, we can be disappointed at one point in our lives and then, older and wiser, recognize in retrospect that NOT getting what we wanted was best longterm.

  5. Loved your friend's comment about "the edited version." It is a good reminder that envy is not only unattractive and a waste of time, but may be displaced. So often what seems from the outside an exciting, rewarding or otherwise truly enviable life, career, relationship, etc., is not. It just seems like it because most peeps (thank goodness)don't go around broadcasting about their disappointments, failures, or pain.

  6. As it goes in the folktale: If we were all told that we could put our troubles, disappointments, worries into a package and throw them into a big pile.....and then choose any package as an exchange....I know I would choose my own.

  7. You're so right, Nancy. There is no such thing as "a perfect life." In my first book, "Mercy, Lord! My Husband's in the Kitchen," one of my prayer poems ends: "... perfection is illusion and happiness condition, swift as seasons' shifting, but as sure in its repeating." The repeating part, especially, is reassuring to me.

  8. Dear Anon,
    Me too. I remember the fable of Pandora's box ornately carved and edged in gold--so seductive in its beauty and promise. But when it was opened, Pandora saw it contained all the troubles and sorrows of the world.

    Contentment is an underrated sentiment, I think.

  9. Ah, Toby, how pithy. All the ups, downs, memorable moments (including collosal screw-ups) have contributed to make us who we are at this moment. Granted, we may not be 100% contented with who or where we are, but regardless, what we do with our Now will be thanks to the lessons we've learned. Might as well stop beating ourselves over the head and get on with it.

  10. "What we do with our Now" is a great phrase, Chassie. It grounds us in the present and points us toward the future. The idea that life is essentially "over" at a pre-determined age is so self-defeating. Reading Maeve Binchy's obituary this morning, I learned she was in her 40's when her first novel was published. She died at 72 a few days ago, but her very vibrant work will live on. And her last novel--her 17th!--is scheduled for release later this year. And P.D. James is still writing at 91. "Death Comes to Pemberly" was published in 2011.