“Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” — Geoff Dyer.
I looked it at for a full two minutes before admitting to the world that I too think regret is a good thing. Not just good but absolutely necessary. Ten years ago I used to be a girl full of optimism. I believed no matter how badly your day was going, the fact that you were alive was enough to be rapturous about. Exactly. I used to be that hugely irritating morning person who was chirpy for absolutely no reason. Now, at 33, I can safely say I’ve done more things to be regretful about that most people have. But for a whole decade, I spouted false optimism, which I later believed because I said it so many times, that I didn’t regret a thing.
The truth of it, however, was that the thing that doesn’t allow you to lie to yourself, the voice you want to suppress with sunshine and mindless joy kept telling me that I indeed had regrets. Later, as I became less sunshiny and more morose, I wondered, no not just wondered, but was baffled by people when they said they didn’t have any regrets. I read in so many places, I heard so many say the saddest thing they would hear from themselves or anyone else was that they had regrets. I used to wonder and be awed at these perfect, bereft lives they lived that didn’t give them the gift of regret. Or maybe their lives weren’t perfect, maybe it was that their attitudes were perfect, bereft.
So let me tell you, I have many a regret. From the time I finished school and started college, there’s a string of regrets, beautiful and fragrant like a garland of desert jasmine. Do they make me sad? Of course, some of them do. Like having gotten married at 22 the first time. Do they make me feel foolish? Yep. I wish I had spent many, many, many more hours in the college library instead of running off after college to spend time with the boyfriend. Do they embarrass me? Of course. I will leave out examples of this one, thank you. Would I do things differently if I were given the chance? Absolutely yes, even though it is widely accepted that if you were allowed to live your life once over, you’d screw the same things up in precisely the same way. Which is exactly why you must, absolutely must have regrets.
For me, regret is precious. Something wrapped in blue box, under layers of tissue; crystalline and delicately coloured. Every time you turn it a couple of degrees, the light hits it in a completely different way, opening up another world in that little cosmos of crystal. Some are bright embarrassing shades of purple, and yet others are a love-sick yellow. Hold it this way and that, and each has a story, a colour that shines soft and dim.
Regret is exquisite. It tells of being so crazily in love that you promised yourself to someone who asked, “If I were to survive on alms, would you still be by my side?” Regret reminds you of the strength of conviction with which you said, “What a stupid question. Of course yes.” Regret has a voice and it is yours when you were 25 years old, having found the man of your dreams at that moment in time.
Regret tells you of the time when the most inspiring teacher you’ve ever had is trying to hone your brilliance but you’re busy running away in the afternoon to neck with and fondle the first man you ever fell in love with. Regret reminds of the 22 year old who was all bursting with sweet innocence that the world was hers to pin in her long hair and do with it as she pleased. Regret, here, becomes the bitter seed of a lemon that you bite into unwittingly, while taking a long sip of the perfect lemonade.
Regret is surprise, regret is cunning, regret is everlasting love, regret is moving on. Regret, sometimes, if you are wise, helps you make new mistakes. At others times, regret is music. You’re addicted to making the same mistakes all over again, after which you sit like a child among a ton of toys, confused, wondering what part of play went wrong. Regret is the opportunity you sent on its way, without thinking you were good enough to make use of it. Regret is many things. But most of all, regret is the strand of golden, shining memory that slaps your hand the minute you try to colour over the truth with peacock blue, forest green and sunshine yellow crayola. Regret has a way of keeping wounds alive, never healing so that you accept new wounds instead of lathering the existing wound with salt.
If I were to put down my biggest regret, it would be that I never knew what I wanted until it was too late. Does that make me unhappy? No. What it does is allow me to build new castles in the air, allows me to scan my soul for answers no matter how hard they are. Do I always succeed? No. Do regrets make me cry? Never. Sometimes, I even smile at the folly of youth and sometimes kick myself and tell myself, look ahead. Don’t look back. It works sometimes and at other times, I am tempted to peek into the past, to see if I am collecting new regrets or old. Sometimes, I can’t tell.