Monday, May 14, 2012

No Regrets

My name is Courtney Crummett and in my day job I am a librarian at MIT Libraries. If you are new to Tuesdays in the Chapel, the theme for this year is “If I could change one thing.” I think we can all have different reactions to that prompt, but for me it was silence, because of course my self centeredness tendencies took it personally and exclaimed that I don’t have a lot of regrets, that regret is something I have consciously tried to avoid… I try my hardest not to live in regret.
So, I have never really understood it, but it isn’t that I am not familiar with it. This is one of those “get to know you” deep topics that people delve into on long drives, or the topic of deep conversations at coffee shops. You know the conversation, the questions, the sharing. I have always found this conversation interesting, while I enjoy hearing the stories of others, and the opportunity to get to know them, I don’t think about regret often so my stories are not well thought out, fragments, filled with lots of uh and ums.

Not having regret is certainly a survival mechanism for me. My personality is large and opinionated; I can’t really make room for a lot of regret. If so, I think I would drown in the proverbial pool of it.

No one can really do this, though. We all have regret, even just a little bit. I regret just a few things. Telling a boy in college that I loved him even though I knew it was a lie, driving too fast and crashing my great aunt’s vintage car that was and is still my prized possession, and my first real job interview that I failed miserably because I simply choked and my mind went blank…

And if you asked me to, I can pull up the memories of regret into my head. It looks like a collection of short YouTube videos. And when I come to the videos I regret, I physically pull my breath in through my teeth.  I can right now see the short film of me helping my best friend put on her wedding dress, having trouble with the zipper, pulling too hard and busting the seam. Right now I am there, standing behind her in that cabin in the Catskills, my fingers hurting and purple from pulling.  My breath sucks through my teeth and I wince. Man, I regret that one a lot. But honestly, she could care less. What is ironic is that me doing that created a moment that her and her now mother-in-law will have forever. The mother in law, an experienced sewer, came to the rescue and stitched everything up in minutes. Good as new and a great bonding moment for them. But which part do I replay in my head, the lovely ending to the story or the gruesome start?

I think we all battle regrets, especially at night when trying to sleep. I catch myself rolling down hills of memories and then all of a sudden I hear the breath pull through my teeth, my physical reaction to regret. I quickly push it away, think of something else to distract myself, puppies, fields of wild flowers, what I am planning for dinner the next day. I pat myself on the back and hope that the next time I roll onto that breath-pulling memory, the sound won’t be so loud, the regret won’t be so pronounced, the video will fade.

This first reading, Awake at Night by Wendell Berry, reminds me of when regret creeps up on me, at night, lying awake.

Awake at Night by Wendell Berry

Late in the night I pay
the unrest I own
to the life that has never lived
and cannot live now.
What the world could be
is my good dream
and my agony when, dreaming it,
I lie awake and turn
and look into the dark.
I think of a luxury
in the sturdiness and grace
of necessary things, not
in frivolity. That would heal
the earth, and heal men.
But the end, too, is part
of the pattern, the last
labor of the heart:
to learn to lie still,
one with the earth
again, and let the world go.

And I like what Wendell says, to let the world go, let the regrets go, because it is just a dream, what the world could be. And I like the part about letting go is the last work of the heart.  This poem is a tiny little regret killer.  Encouraging us to lie still let the world go.

Because holding on to regrets won’t help us. I’m not pulling extra breath that I need. All our mistakes, our regrets, make us who we are. That is why I feel so strongly about not having regrets. Every time I have said the wrong thing, every worst first impression I have given, it is who I am. Someone told me recently that things get messy before they get cleaner and if we had a pill that could make us exactly who God wants us to be instantly, someone would have already invented it. And believe me, I would be first in line. But they haven’t, and sometimes things are messy, but that is part of life. We shouldn’t regret the messy parts. It is what we do next that counts, how we push off that regret and move on.

I found another fitting poem, a response maybe to lastweek’s choice of a Robert Frost poem.

Thanks, Robert Frost by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

Here, we have Robert Frost himself telling us to let go of the regret because it will turn out to have been all right, part of the plan, mistakes that make us who we were. I think it is no secret that MIT is full of overachievers, hard workers and people who expect nothing short of greatness. Regret can be an evil harbinger for folks that match this description. So, I think if I could change one thing it would be how hard we are all on ourselves, how many regrets we allow to keep us awake at night, I would change that.  I can still see the wedding dress zipper in my head, I can hear my breath suck in, but I am working on shrugging off that one, and each time it is a little less.