Thursday, May 23, 2024

Columnist Robert Hawke Ponders Big Regrets and Choices Made Without Second Thoughts

My life would have been so much better if I hadn’t asked the hot person out.

I wish I didn’t take that trip to Spain.

If only I hadn’t gone on so many walks.

I wish I hadn’t applied for that intimidating job.

Eating s’mores was my biggest mistake.

I wish I hadn’t been so generous.

Have you ever heard anybody say any of these things? Me neither.

I especially have never heard of anyone who didn’t like Spain.

Yes, we’re talking about regrets here. Big regrets. I’m over 50 now and occasionally when I can’t sleep. I lay in bed listening to my remarkably tiny dog snore and I think to myself about what I wish I had done differently. Here’s a favourite: I wish I had bought a nice little house in Hamilton for $55,000. I know this sounds ridiculous, but back when I was 30, you COULD buy a house in Hamilton for that amount. I was actually looking for one but then chickened out because I was on my own. I try really hard not to think about it, but fail miserably.

Most of us have regrets, of course. They have a way of accumulating the longer we live. I’ve noticed something about them, however. I have way more regrets about what I didn’t do than what I did do.

Even events that seemed terrible at the time, I appreciate now in a very strange way. I don’t regret being on stage and having a performance go badly. I don’t regret being a young man and only having $10.27 to feed myself until Saturday. I don’t regret having a roommate who was somehow affiliated with a biker gang, doing intravenous drugs and was a born-again Christian at the same time. (I hope he’s well wherever he is.) These were all tough experiences as I was going through them, but I have gained a mountain of life experience with all of them.

One regret: Barbecuing during an ice storm, which resulted in a broken ankle. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, John Lillis.

However, I do have regrets about barbecuing pork chops last winter in an ice storm and breaking my ankle two weeks before my wife and I were scheduled to go on a trip. I can see now that cooking meat on a grill instead of on the stove in a frying pan and literally risking breaking a limb and ruining a trip wasn’t worth it. The pork chops were still really good though, even after we picked them up after they landing in the snow when I took a tumble.

Sometimes these choices can have huge implications. I once had a shot to join a theatre company in Prague right after they had The Velvet Revolution. Would this have been a huge risk? Yes! Could it have ended in catastrophe? Yes! Do I regret now not doing it? Yes! This adventure could have changed things for many years to come.

On the other side of this coin, there are the things that I never regret. See if some of these things are on your list.

I never regret getting on my bike or swimming, or calling up a friend, or talking to my mom and dad, or travelling, or reading a good book, or getting off the couch to do virtually anything.

We are faced with these simple choices every day.

When I look back, many times regrets are the result of choosing comfort over adventure. This is interesting because comfort becomes so much more appealing as we age. The modern world is all about bringing us anything we want with the smallest amount of effort. If you like, you could go through a whole chunk of your life with as little risk and human contact as possible. While this does sound appealing at times, it also feels to me like a path paved with loss. The adventures I’m talking about don’t have to be of the moving-to- Prague-during-political-turmoil variety. They can be as simple as choosing a walk or a bike ride over watching a third episode of Queen of the South on Netflix.

Not swimming at sunset might be one regret, according to our columnist. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, sunrisesoup.

I even caught myself feeling regret this summer. My wife and I went for a walk by our local beach, barely a kilometer from our house. Folks were swimming while the sun set. I remarked, “Oh man! This is so beautiful! I missed a whole summer of swimming and it was so close.” My wife looked at me and said, “Sweetheart, it ain’t fall yet.” True enough.

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