I see the pain in my son’s face over the pain he has caused someone else. He wishes he could take what he has said and done back, but instead he covers his regret with bravado.
And me? I try very hard not to go old-school on him and lecture. Because some things cannot be learned through someone else’s words. Some things we learn only by doing.
What I would like to tell him, and may when he is better able to hear it, is this: There’s a Before and an After. Most of us don’t see a clear delineation in our daily life. When living a Before, you just think of it as what will always be. Even if at some level we know change in life is a given, we fool ourselves into complacency in our Befores.
I’d like to share with him the regret I still feel–even now–three decades later, over a thoughtless slight. I was exiting a movie when I saw a friend, with his new girlfriend. He had just broken up with one of my best friends. Thinking I was being oh so loyal to my gal pal, I gave him a cold stare and walked out of the theater with nary a word to him. He managed to look hurt and surprised at the same time. Despite all of the fun-filled evenings we’d spent together over the past year, I treated him coldly.
A month later, at 18, he died. While away at college, unexpectedly. I did not get to attend his funeral, as my grandfather’s burial was the same day hundreds of miles away.
Ouch. What I wouldn’t have given to have that night at the movies back to do it all over the right way.
The last time I talked to a good friend from my hometown days, we were at a park in that same hometown. She was recovering from a mastectomy and chemo. We thought she had many years ahead. The conversation would have been very different had I known she would be dead a few months later.
When my parents were sick and dying, every conversation felt like the last one. And I realized you can’t cram a lifetime full of unsaid things into one—or even a dozen—conversations.
So I learned from all of the above. And other, less drastic, incidents. I’m sure you have your own. What would you say or do differently if given a last morning to wake up again with an old flame? What would you share with the teacher who has passed on? The one that made you see in yourself all the good you were missing?
Here and now. That’s all we have. While I don’t want to wax eloquent to a friend about how much she means to me as we get pedicures, I can be truly present. Drink the champagne, laugh at her antics, listen sympathetically to her as she talks about her daily trials.
When I am with my peeps, I try my best. I try not to do and say things I might regret later. I try to be sure I do and say what needs to be done and said to let people know they matter to me.
Mostly, I try not to be arrogant enough to assume the future will mirror the present just because I will it to be so.
I stay in the here and now, fully present, fully participating. First time, last time and every time in between—that is my goal. Methinks it’s a good one.