I do not have many regrets in my life, at least in regard to the big decisions: getting married, getting unmarried, having children, attending various schools, working first as a teacher, then as a psychotherapist, and most recently as a minister. These decisions have been to the good, more or less. But I do have some regrets that stick in my memory, as I move into this New Year. I tell myself these are little things, but they are not, for they have taught me how I should live.
I have been retired from the parish ministry for over two years now, but I remember so many of my congregants vividly. I have been thinking about Margo, an elderly woman of refinement and wealth, but totally unpretentious and simple in her living, and uncommonly generous to the church. I had visited her over the years, as she went into an inevitable decline. Because of a lack of oxygen to her brain, she began to drift away from time to time. When I visited her, I wondered if she knew who I was. I busied myself with the various tasks of my ministry, and I realized that months had gone by without my seeing Margo. One day as I left the church, I had a strong inclination to visit her. I should’ve known to follow my intuitive sense and drive directly to her home, but I did not. I was tired. I could always go another day, I reasoned. But of course I could not. The next day I got the call saying that she had died. I regret not saying goodbye to someone I loved. Sometimes “now” is not just the best time, but the only time.
Another memory. I had been in a relationship with a man during most of my time in graduate school. He was good for me in many ways. But the relationship was star-crossed and fated to end, so I had decided to break off the relationship. I still cared for this man, of course, but all logic worked against us, and I knew I was doing the right thing by leaving him. A few months into our separation, he called to tell me that his father had just died. He asked me to cancel my plans for the weekend and come to him. I was torn. I considered his request and decided not to go. I wanted to break the bond between us, and I thought it would be unwise for me to be with him during this tender time. I left him alone with his great sadness. I regret not going to be with my friend.
A third memory. This incident happened many years ago, when I was a young mother, but I remember it keenly. I had gotten a puppy for my two little boys — an adorable black and white soft, fluffy kind of puppy — but as it turned out, they did not want a puppy. When I ask my older son why, he said, “I’d rather have a goldfish. You don’t have to take a goldfish for walk.” So I had to find a new home for the puppy. I put an ad in the local paper, and soon someone called saying they had a good home for the dog. When I got to the house, however, I noted that it was cluttered and dirty, that the children were half clothed, and a couple of skinny dogs were already there. I should have scooped up my puppy and made my exit. But I was raised to be polite, and I did not have the courage to tell this family I felt their home was unfit, so I left our beautiful little puppy with them. I regret not protecting an innocent creature that was dependent upon me.
In each case, my heart was telling me what I needed to do. And in each case, I allowed other considerations to overrule my intuitive sense of what was right. I have learned over and over again in this world that the heart knows a deeper truth than reason can reach. Connection matters. Caring and kindness trump every rationale.