“I had the worst dream last night” my friend said as we sat down over coffee.
He is an artist and although I don’t know him well, I really like him and I know that he has had a rich life.
“I dreamt that my life was a sham, that I had done nothing, accomplished nothing, that I was nothing”. I waited for him to continue. “I’m still trying to shake it off”.
He stirred his coffee thoughtfully and waited for me to respond.
“Ah, yes” I said, “the cat of nine tails I like to call regret.”
I considered my response carefully. I am not one to think much about regret—I’m a doer, not a regretter.
Or so I thought until I decided to move to another country. My life was no longer defined with hard edges and certainty. It was more like a pudding, a bit slippery and hard to grasp. I now had more time on my hands, to theoretically do something new and interesting with my life.
Being an introvert, my free time often went to thinking, which led to self-criticism, which led to regret—and to the cat of nine tails.
I’d pull that baby out and flagellate away, wincing with every claw at my self-esteem, until I was convinced my life was nothing but regret.
This usually happened at night and I often awoke tired and grumpy and not at all feeling like the world was a bountiful place. So I listened with rapt attention at what my friend was saying.
“I mean, I have regrets, who doesn’t? If you have no regrets then you haven’t done anything, or you’re lying.” He looked at me expectantly.
“I sometimes have this dream”, I told him, “where I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, terrified and convinced that I never actually graduated from high school, so that makes the rest of my life moot”.
He carefully laid his spoon on the table and stared at me, trying to discern if I was sharing my innermost confession or was having him on. Given we didn’t know each other well, it could have gone either way.
A smile escaped my lips and I said, “F*ck it, I hated high school anyway”.
The moral of my story?
Although regret is a part of life and potentially a great teacher, it is not a bedfellow to spend time with.
Don’t even let it in the room. Give it a cursory nod as you walk on by, head held high, no backward glances, no second looks.
Regret is a story as ludicrous as my “terrifying” nightmare and in the cool light of dawn, it is always the same for me.
I see no evidence of the cat of nine tales but rather, I see evidence of a life well lived.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Alison Wattie
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock