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I’m taking a writing class through the UNC College for Seniors (aka OLLI). Writing a Legacy Letter is about leaving a little something behind for your descendants without all the hassle of composing the totality of life that is your memoir–and having to do all that annoying remembering. I’m finding this letter to be more difficult than I thought. It’s not a collection of all my little anecdotes, but a more thoughtful missive about my values to which I might add an anecdote or two as illustration of such.
One portion of this letter, I’m told, is to write about my regrets. Something I said or did, something I didn’t do or should have done differently which caused me to bemoan the outcome of my choice. Regrets? Really? That’s not something I have ever found myself dwelling upon. So, of course, my first thought is that I don’t have any life-altering regrets. My life is not the plot of some explosive best-selling novel. There are no emotionally crushing events I could have avoided by choosing another path. Nothing so troubling as to be worthy of mentioning to my progeny anyway. My mind continually wanders to all the stuff other people did, or should have done. The people who previously owned the Hobbit House come to mind. What the hell were they thinking when they installed that ugly kitchen floor or the enormous sink in such a tiny bathroom?
Regrets. Initially, the internal circus (my mind) hopped about recalling minor incidents. That time I stopped at the red light when the driver behind me intended to run it. An awkward moment when I called someone by the wrong name (I easily blame poor memory these days). When I grabbed my zealous dog during a barking frenzy and she chomped down on my calf. That day I braked too hard on a sandy patch of roadway and fell off my bike in rural, there’s-no-cell-phone-service-out-here Texas. These little scenarios certainly add up, but had minimal impact on the overall substance of my life. Shit happens, as they say, and leaves us with momentary regrets. Though I remember this kind of stuff, I tend to file it under Forgivable Lack of Judgement. I feel pretty sure I learned nothing of value, except maybe how not to deal with a crazed dog.
So that leaves me floundering for some grievous, long-held regret which left a taste of bitterness in an otherwise joyful existence. Some wretched miscalculation or ill-timed foible which changed the trajectory of my planned happiness and hounds me with mournful anguish. Let’s see. I never committed any egregious crimes. All my family members are still talking to me. I cherished my parents as well as any daughter could. Friends came and went throughout my life with little to no animosity. I’ve enjoyed all my schooling and jobs and activities of living. And, as I like to tell my hubby, I waited for the right man to marry. Damn. My life would make a shitty Victorian novel. So, perhaps having read too many of those Victorian novels, I reigned in my obviously biased opinions on the concept of the sort of regret one might share with offspring in lieu of taking it to the grave. I began to think of it as something not necessarily a burden to be lifted off my chest but an admission of emotion to be conveyed to those who come after me. And then, I thought of something.
I tend to be people-oriented, so I recall a moment when my husband and I were in our car, driving to our new hometown in North Carolina. As we hit the outskirts of Houston, where I lived for 42 years, my regret came in the form of leaving behind people whose company I thoroughly enjoyed, knowing I would never see them again. Of course, I predicted some of my friends would come to visit us in the mountains, and indeed, some have. Though I know people come and go during a lifetime, I regret that so many have vanished into the past. Does this leave me feeling despondent? No, I simply chalk it up to the usual flow of living and find a measure of happiness recalling the joy of our association.
Of the folks left behind, I feel the most regret when I think about having left the gang at Circle of Friends, an organization I volunteered with for five years. Circle of Friends is a social activities program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I was one among our awesome team of volunteers. I worked with the drumming group, playing percussion instruments and writing/directing our performance pieces–yes! we performed for enthusiastic audiences. I introduced these drummers to vocalizations, syncopations, trash cans as instruments and We will, we will rock you! They introduced me to their unique abilities and the concept of utter exultation.
I used every skill I acquired through my studies in physical therapy and human development to figure out how each person could contribute to our music. These percussionists used every bit of their charm to make me feel like their queen. When one young man was unable to hold a drum or lift an arm, I bought him a bike horn that he could squeeze on cue. Seeing the look of delight on his face, his inability to participate solved, was one of my highest rewards. Nothing left me so breathless as our rendition of the theme from Jaws, complete with a shark propelled by a wheelchair and a very enthusiastic scream from our drummers as that predatory beast moved in to bite my leg off. I miss the fun. I miss the love. I miss the sheer euphoria in the triumph of our collective hearts. I regret having to leave it all behind.
Though this is a regret, it evokes wonderful memories rather than contrition. I continued to search for something truly dark and lamentable to complement my reading habits and stay the verdict of being a boring ancestor. When I looked at some of my recent projects, it hits me. Hard. My contribution to the trashing of our planet. Most people don’t even think about this. I do. I’ve been a lazy, unthinking and thoroughly willing participant…until recently. Not just me, of course, but everyone who consumes. Single-use plastic had become my enemy. If I have to buy something wrapped in plastic, I truly grieve. I’ve spent the past year or so trying to limit the amount of products I buy which cause me to toss plastic waste straight into the garbage can.
If you want to be shocked, depressed or harbor feelings of guilt, look no further than videos of the ways in which plastic is choking the earth. My part in this is something I can truly regret. But it’s not all doom and gloom on the moors. Heathcliff and Cathy have started a campaign! I’m hoping I can do my part more efficiently and be remembered as an honorable ancestor, having assuaged my regret with action to change things. I want my descendants to find me interesting, not culpable of contributing to the polluting of their home.
My deepest rue, it seems, is that I have had a marvelously mundane life in the regrets department. So, for the sake of fostering an interest in my dubious past, I’ve decided to go with ambiguity. My descendants will love the mystery and may even spend hours of their time trying to sort through all the clues I’ve left behind. The unsent letter to a former lover. A receipt from a hotel in Bangkok. Mournful poetry about how life might have been if only I’d followed my heart. The mist creeps up upon the moors as the Brontë sisters cheer me on. Regrets? What makes you think I would have any of those?
A friend once told me a story of his Irish uncle who got hit by a car and begged for a priest so he could have his final confession. When the priest arrived he asked the uncle “What would you like to confess to”. The uncle replied “Everything except murder”. I feel a very strong connection to that uncle.
No need for specifics then!
Alas! I would love to write a piece like this but I can’t! May the rest of your life continue to be regret free!! ????
Everything impacts the trajectory of our lives. It’s just something I’ve never given much thought to.
You have been blessed with empathy, compassion, Drive, vision, a big heart, talents n the ability to make a commitment and stick with it. You are right I don’t find any regrets in there.
I always have stuff to feel bad about, I just try not to hold onto the “what ifs.” I might have a different definition of regret? Is it true contrition or the mere notion I could have done better? Thank you for all the compliments. I’ll try to live up to them.
One of your best yet, thank you.