I don’t have a lot of regrets. Certainly not about anything important. I might regret having eaten one too many pieces of pizza last night or having sucked down one beer too many, but I don’t regret getting married, moving overseas, or having children. Thank God, because if I did, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am, and this would be a very, very different blog.
I don’t exactly know why, but I had recently been thinking about regrets. Instead of wishing ardently that my life had taken a different course, I thought about how the things I had once regretted doing helped me become the person I am today. I could not be more thrilled with my life or feel more blessed. I know it nauseates people to hear that, but it is true. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined marrying a more amazing woman, living in India, or being so fortunate as to have such bright and articulate children.
I was voted most likely to succeed by my high school classmates. I was captain of the swim team, president of the National Honor Society, and headed to Johns Hopkins to study medicine. Objectively, I was a safe bet. But soon after arriving at Hopkins, I developed shoulder pain that plagued me for the next three seasons and almost the entirety of my collegiate swimming career and failed freshman Chem, thereby derailing my dream of being a medical doctor. It wouldn’t be the first time I would have to regroup and reassess.
By the time I had graduated college, I was waiting tables and vainly attempting to forge a career writing fiction. I spent most of my time in beer-sopped Irish bars in the darkest and hottest parts of downtown West Palm Beach. I won’t go into the gruesome, self-absorbed details of what happened between 1994 and today. I will just say that my road to success—as it often is for many—was not clear or direct. There was no freeway.
I am not sure how success is defined in high school, or whether my high school peers would find me successful now. I am most certainly not making the most money of anyone who graduated from Jupiter High School in 1990. But I do not regret not having applied myself more in Chemistry. I feel successful in my own way.
When I was a small boy, my dad used to make me go to guitar lessons in the back of small un-air conditioned music shop on Park Ave. in Lake Park. The place was musty and smelled like old books. Stacks of yellowing sheet music littered the counters. I was taught by an old, extremely patient man who reminded me of my grandfather, Jidu, who passed away when I was also a young boy. He had large, thick, leathery hands, just like Jidu’s, and a warm, patient smile. You would have thought the smile deprecating if you didn’t know how patient he was.
The sad part of this story is I didn’t learn how to play guitar. At all. I goofed off during every class so much that no instruction ever took place. I was completely wasting my dad’s money and this man’s time. It was, for a very long time, the one thing that I regretted more than anything else: not having taken those lessons more seriously.
So, shortly after I graduated from college and moved back in with my mom, then my dad, then my mom again, before sharing an apartment with a co-worker’s cousin in Chasewood, I went to Jupiter Music on Maplewood and signed up for lessons.
I learned to read music. I learned chords. I learned to play the opening rift of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.
When I moved to Boulder, I took my guitar with me. I signed up for more lessons at Woodsong Music on Pearl St. There, I learned to improvise jam the blues and jazz chords. I taught myself how to play a dozen Dave Matthews’ songs.
In Colorado, I played the guitar all the time in the basement of our townhouse. For hours, I would just play to myself with joy and zeal and I was chasing away regret, playing it away.
Growing up, I asked my mom to buy me silly things. I remember owning a pair of bright pink jeans. Before buying them, my mom asked me if I would ever wear them. I told her I would, but never did, and they hung in my closet for years, fading. I asked her to buy me a Casio keyboard. She reminded me about the guitar lessons and asked if I planned in taking piano lessons. I never did. When we were living in Texas, she took me to a toy store to buy a Christmas present for my younger brother, Josh. I bought three G.I. Joe figures. She asked me if he really liked G.I. Joe, and I insisted that he did. Shortly after we returned home, I broke down and admitted I bought them for myself.
For one or two seasons, I was an assistant swim coach for a high school team. I drove one of the team van’s back from a swim meet in Orlando full of teenagers. One of the girls had to go to the bathroom, but I never pulled the van over. This was before the proliferation of cell phones, and I was afraid of losing the caravan. Not that I couldn’t find my way home. I made her hold it the whole way back.
I immediately felt terrible once we pulled into the parking lot of the school and I watched her hobble off to the restroom. I ran into her years later in a bar and I told her I regretted not having let her go to the bathroom. She forgave me, but I still learned an important lesson, one that would come to serve me well later in life. No trip is worth taking if you can’t go to the bathroom. And this patience would serve me well with children, and road trips would become less about the destination and more about the journey itself. With bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, ice cream cone breaks, feeding breaks, and just run around breaks, travelling with kids is all about the journey.
So I felt regret and learned from it. I used it to make me a better person. Regret can be useful, too.