A friend of mine was asked to write an essay for a radio station. His topic was to be, If I had known then… Obviously, this was to be an essay about regrets. This got me to thinking about my own regrets. How would I write such an essay?
Looking back across the last six decades, I do not regret too many things in my life. For years, I have gambled, occasionally drunk to excess, and systematically slaughtered many, if not most, of the Ten Commandments. I am afraid I wasted the rest of the years. Sure, I have made mistakes, but I’m not too sure I regret many of them. Besides, I have come to realize that bad judgment makes for good stories. As I am forced to realize that I have more of my years behind me than in front of me, I prize the stories more and more.
Okay, sticking around to see exactly how bad a category 4 hurricane could really be was probably a mistake. Telling your wife that you could always remember her birthday because she was born on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland was definitely a mistake. If a highway patrolman asks you why you are driving a Porsche over 100 mph down the Gulf Freeway, the correct answer is probably not, “Well, I had to slow down on account of the rain.” If you are interested in learning firsthand what that last experience was like, the next time you are pulled over for a minor traffic infringement, roll down the window, wait for the cop to walk up, and before he can say anything to you, scream, “Don’t look in the trunk!” It was sort of like that.
On more than one occasion livestock have stepped on me, kicked me, bit me, and mistaken me for a public restroom. I have been snake bit and knocked unconscious by an elephant. (Never approach an immature elephant with a shirt pocket full of peanuts.) And the night three of us stole an alligator was definitely not a good night. Yeah, all of these were mistakes, and I have the scars and the stitches to prove it. Even if I could, I wouldn’t sell one of those scars for big money as each of them represents a story, and all of them are mine.
Mark Twain once said, “…a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful.” I have carried my share of cats home by their tails, and I would not willingly part with my hard earned education. And by this formula, that alligator must have earned me a doctorate.
I do have regrets, but most of my regrets have to do with the things I turned down. I deeply regret the times I said no instead of leaping out and taking a great risk with a loud yes. I regret not having said yes to a certain redhead with a 150 watt smile about 40 years ago. I regret saying no to that Israeli Air Force recruiter. And years ago, while driving from Vancouver to California, I saw a sign, “Alaska Ferry 10 Miles.” Why in the world didn’t I turn the truck and get on that ferry? I probably should regret using a Cessna to stampede cattle, but how was I to know there was a farmer standing in that field? Even now, I would probably regret it, if only I could stop laughing.
I remember sitting on the side of a hill watching the bushes where I was damn near certain a buck was hiding, but before I could find out, a javelina started walking up the trail towards me. He looked right at me and there seemed to be a glint of intelligence in those cold beady black eyes. I remember thinking, “He’s trying to tell me something.” Now, a javelina is about as mean as my mother-in-law, and they can and will rip you to shreds, but I remember having a strong gut feeling that I could learn something from this one. Perhaps I was on the brink of unlocking one of nature’s great mysteries. In some small way, I regret having shot him. I don’t regret having eaten him. Slow cooked with onions, garlic, and red wine. Maybe he was trying to tell me a better recipe.
I have a whole list of books that I haven’t read, and I deeply regret this. I regret that too often in my life I did the things I was supposed to do and didn’t take more time off to read those books. There is an infinite amount of work, but there is definitely a finite list of good books. There’s a big list of bad books I regret not having read.
No, I look back and I regret having been too careful with my life. I regret that I didn’t live a little wilder, jump a little higher, and run a lot faster. I seemed to have been under the impression that somehow I was going to leave this life alive. If I had known then what I know now, I would do everything the same, only more so, harder, and faster.