A good friend of mine who is 72 recently told me that she’s recently been filled with regret about this and that. I tried to console her by talking her through her accomplishments, but finally I said: Dear friend, at our age there’s no time for this. Regrets are for the young and middle-aged, who might still do something about them. For us there are roses to sniff, and paths not to stumble on.
Then I went home, pretended to be twenty-plus years younger, and wrote this piece. I like to think of it as a standup comedy routine. —LB
They say that regret is the midnight song of an ambitious mind. Sometimes they say “jealous heart” instead of “ambitious mind” (and “drunken rant” instead of “midnight song”), but I find that version much less quotable. Either way, I regret not knowing who “they” are so that I could begin this essay with an apt aphorism. Maybe I just did, but the professor who blocked my progress back in my college days would never have accepted it without citation, and regrettably, I’ve unable to get his voice out of my head for the past three decades.
Never mind him: Not to boast, but I’ve had many, many greater regrets since. I regret not going scuba-diving, for example, before Jaws 2 was released on DVD. And not visiting Smoky Mountain National Park or any point south of Washington DC before that movie with the banjo music streamed on Netflix.
I also regret never seeing the Perseus Meteor Showers in their full glory. I've always gone to bed too early, and the one time I managed to stay up they weren’t so great, and then somebody mentioned ticks and I went inside.
I regret that I never wrote one of the Beatles’ songs. I’ve thought up some really good tunes over the years and at least one of them could have been used by the Beatles if they hadn’t broken up and stopped accepting songs a couple of years before my birth.
I regret that I married “my best friend” (that’s what Mom told me she should be). I should have married Donna Belatsky instead, or her best friend, Lisa. I also regret that “my best friend” became “my worst enemy” after she read my Facebook correspondence with Lisa (who had no idea where Donna currently is).
I very much regret that I’ve never attended an orgy. Even though one-on-one has been difficult for me sometimes, I think in a large group this might have gone unnoticed.
I somewhat regret having voted for Ralph Nader, but I don’t remember which election that was so I don’t get too worked up about it. It was probably the first time I voted (and definitely the last), so I really didn’t have much practice.
I have too many fashion regrets even to mention.
Back to college (those were really good months): I regret accumulating a $45,000 debt when I could have read the “20th-Century British Literature” Monarch Notes series on my own. On the other hand, I usually fall asleep reading at home, whilst (!) I only fell asleep in class twice in two years — both times with that professor, the citation-stickler, whatever his name was.
I regret not getting through my junior year. And I regret that I can’t blame that on too much partying.
I regret not learning Chinese in college, though I still do a very good imitation Chinese that used to crack up the guys in my frat house. A few of them, anyway.
I regret losing one of my many roommates to the Iraq War. (Oh, right — that’s the election Ralph Nader lost.) Since he had already stopped paying rent, I guess he technically wasn’t my roommate any more, though he still felt he could yell at me whenever I went into his room to see if he’d left.
I regret losing my father when I was 18. If I’d been younger, I could’ve collected a survivors’ benefit. Instead I still have to wait almost two decades before I can collect my full Social Security.
I wish I could sleep for those two decades without aging, then wake up and collect my Social Security. Maybe even with aging it would be worth it. I wonder if Rip Van Winkle aged while he slept, or just grew his beard long?
I regret not believing in God. Not only would it give me great solace and hope, but it would spare me from ending up in hell.
That’s enough regrets for one night. It’s now two in the morning, and ]I have to be up very early to be at Trader Joe’s — regrettably, not to shop.
—Lawrence Bush for Alte: Getting Old Together