The Value of Regrets

old man smoking

He had heard all the cliches about how you should live your life without regrets. They were repeated like some occult wisdom or gospel. People put the cliches on bumper stickers and they were tweeted by teenagers sneaking out of the house or attending parties or Facebooked by girls on one night stands.

He had grown to realise that reality was much more complicated. While cliches did a good job sticking in our minds as repeatable phrases, they did little in actually solving life’s complicated problems. He dragged on a cigarette and subconsciously nodded agreement with himself.


Try telling those afflicted with HIV/AID that they shouldn’t have any regrets in their life. Try telling the rapist and murders, perhaps the DUI offender even, how they shouldn’t have any regrets in their lives. Try telling the child that grows up in the war-torn African country that a life well-lived should have no regrets. Try telling the abused or mistreated or malnourished that they are living life wrong if they have regrets.

He had always thoughts that the only way to have a life without regrets was in fact to have a charmed life where no a single tough decision has to be made, no risks are taken and, indeed, no life at all is ever really lived. It was to live a life free from responsibilities while being funded by the labour of others. It was to be born rich, do nothing, and die young.

He had regrets. He had lived a full life, but he definitely had regrets that touched his mind in the quiet moments of the night.

He lit another cigarette; the flash of the lighter and then the soft roar of the tobacco burning as he pulled on it. Dry smoke pulled into his lung and he breathed it out slowly.

Yes, I have regrets.

He should never have started smoking, but quitting it was now the hardest thing he had ever failed at. Well, at least, it wouldn’t matter much, anymore, and besides he had met his late wife when she had borrowed a lighter from him. Perhaps he had had to smoke to have the life that he had lived.

Yes, I have many regrets.

His wife had left him after a handful of years of marriage. He had loved her. He still thought he did, though it was so many years ago he was not sure that he could fully remember what she looked like anymore. But, still, he regretted not trying harder to make it work. He regretted being a bad husband. Perhaps he even regretted walking into that bar where they met all those years ago.

Yes, so many regrets…

There was the time he shouted at his mother. The trip to Russia. Skipping the flaming dessert in Paris and the snails. He should’ve spent more time with his parents and his brother. He should have exercised more and taken his friend up on the offer to go rock climbing. He should not have drunk that much in Tokyo nor gone to that hotel with that girl. He should not have kissed that girl nor eaten that pill the guy in the club had given him. He should have bought the house by the beach and retired a decade earlier. He should have sent an invite to her or even just called her…

But, he reminded himself smiling wryly, at least this nearly endless list of regrets means that I have had to make real decisions. It means that I truly have been at life’s crossroads and lived a full life.

He smiled and lit another cigarette.

A couple months later, his brother would say nearly identical words to the handful of people that attended his funeral: he had lived a full life.

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