“I don’t regret anything.”
I used to say this. A lot.
I’ve made mistakes (some of them rather significant). Declaring that I didn’t regret anything was a way of owning it all. I felt like I was saying, “This is who I am, flaws and all. This is me: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Take it or leave it.”
I’m not sure where I got this philosophy from. Maybe I caught some celebrity interview and admired the way she stumbled, fell, and then picked herself back up. Maybe it was listening to Edith Piaf again and again while perfecting my French accent. Or maybe it was a slogan I read on some t-shirt.
Whatever the reason, I went through my 20s and most of my 30s without regrets. But now, I think back to every misstep, every thoughtless act, and every shitty thing I ever said, and I have to tell you, I have a lot of regrets.
Some of us in the Jewish community honored a very sacred holiday last month, Yom Kippur. It is also known as the Day of Atonement. Many Jews prepare for this holiday by reflecting on all the things they didn’t do so well in the past year. And I don’t mean, I could have done a better job organizing that closet.
The days and weeks leading up to Yom Kippur are a time to dig through all the awkward, unattractive, or down right shitty things we’ve done in the past year. If we find, in all the shittiness, that we’ve hurt someone or wronged them in any way, it’s time to ask forgiveness. I’ve honored Yom Kippur for several years now and I’ll admit, I’ve done a pretty half-ass job of asking for forgiveness.
Essentially, I didn’t.
I’d reflect on all the things I effed up and think, “Well, that didn’t go so well. But lesson learned. I’ll just try to be better next year.”
Not this year.
There was something I had to make right. I had hurt a friend really bad. So bad, that for a period of several months, we hadn’t spoken. Eventually, some things shifted in her life and we were speaking again but the shitty thing I did was still clouding every conversation, every exchange.
I wanted things to be different. I didn’t want us to look at each other through the taint of what I’d done. So, for the first time in all my Jewish years, I did Teshuvah – I atoned for my sins. I asked her for forgiveness. Truly and deeply.
And let me tell you, apologizing is the pits. It feels really crappy while you’re doing it. It’s supposed to. It’s not meant to be easy. So, you do it. You say sorry and if you’re lucky they tell you it’s okay; they release you from the pain of regret and you can begin to mend a torn relationship.
After all this, after asking for forgiveness with all my heart, I don’t think I could ever again say, No regrets. I’ve come to believe that ‘no regrets’ is an asshole thing to say. I will always regret hurting someone. I will always regret not seizing an opportunity to share, or love, or show someone kindness. And if someone walks away from an interaction with me feeling less than awesome, I just didn’t do my job in the world.
Arthur Miller once wrote,
Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
I think there is something to this. I don’t regret cheerleader try-outs (I didn’t get in). I don’t regret applying to NYU (I wasn’t accepted). I don’t regret every single poem I entered in a contest (I’ve never won). However, I do, with all my heart, regret every single time I’ve made someone cry with pain. I do regret every thoughtless thing I’ve ever said that might have made someone doubt themselves or their potential. I do regret all the shitty things I’m not even aware I’ve done. I regret them all.
I still feel that to love me is to accept my shortcomings. Yet, I don’t wish to wear those shortcomings like a badge. I am this whole package; I am the sum of every act of kindness (minus, of course, all the shitty things).
To love me is to accept my shortcomings. Yet, I don't wish to wear those shortcomings like a badge. Click To Tweet
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