Rethinking Regret: Two Stories of Forgiveness and Acceptance

Regret’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I used to believe that it served no redeemable purpose, that accumulated regret would only function to burden a person under its weight, like a sack of rocks, discomfort giving way to hopelessness and overall stuck-ness as one buckled under the heaviness of it over the years.

I remember one of my first memories as a child being steeped in regret. With my family, I had emigrated from France at the tender age of 4 ½, speaking not a single word of English. Days after having arrived in Canada, we decided to visit a museum somewhere on the East Coast. With my parents, I entered an enormous hall that housed an expansive and interactive children’s winter exhibition. I was overcome by the beauty of a massive igloo standing before me. Staring into the extended entryway of the beautiful, white, frosted structure, I suddenly became aware of the children playing inside. From the half-moon entrance, I gazed past the hallway, into the blue-white dome at the children’s exuberant and smiling faces decorated with sparkle face-paint. I remember my parents urging me to go in, but I just stood there, paralyzed.

Ironically, something about it delighted and intrigued me. I yearned for my cheeks to be adorned with frosty, magical paint, too, but my feet stood planted firmly on the concrete floor of the exhibition refusing the invitations of my perplexed parents.

Looking back, the long list of rapid-fire firsts undoubtedly had me swimming in a sea of very understandable overwhelm. My little 4-year-old heart desperately wanted to enter but my mind wouldn’t let me. I was standing at the edge of what felt like a life-changing cliff and felt unable to close my eyes, embrace the unknown, and take the leap.

I remember driving away from the exhibition, quietly heartbroken and disappointed that I had passed on the opportunity. Unable to forgive myself, whenever the uncomfortable experience came to mind, I would often push the memory away entirely.

Dramatic? Perhaps.

Minor? Seemingly.

But…perspective is relative…even to a child.

For a long time, I unconsciously adopted the ubiquitous North American bumper-sticker-slogan, “no regrets,” unequivocally rejecting the potential value of regret and denying its existence entirely. Regret is uncomfortable…why on Earth would one subject oneself to it?

Yet… I’ve recently changed my mind about regret.

Perhaps it does indeed have a purpose. That purpose, however, relies entirely on the ability of a person to harness its usefulness, while resisting the damaging effects of reliving a past one cannot change.

I have come to believe that regret operates as a guide…

reminding you to stand in your integrity,

to seek out the pursuits most connected to your ‘heart-wishes’ (the things that your ‘thinking-mind’ often prevents you from pursuing for a myriad of ‘rational’ reasons),

to have intention without hesitation and follow that intention with unapologetic purpose.

In order for regret to be useful, one has to also employ self-forgiveness.

Oh, forgiveness.

Like many people, I’ve had a challenging relationship with the general concept of forgiveness.

It’s taken me a long time to settle upon a definition that would enable me to engage in authentic forgiveness while maintaining my integrity. Here it is…

Forgiveness is the ability to accept the past and to stop wishing it were different, despite injustice, hurt, and heartbreak. It’s not about condoning. It’s about finding a way forward. Not for someone else. For yourself.

I believe that regret and forgiveness are closely tied. Regret is that inner reminder that tells you that you deviated from your values. Forgiveness allows you to move forward, becoming unstuck through your pursuit to apply your lessons learned. You can release yourself from replaying regret, accept it, apply the lesson, and live your life with the intention you have for it, in forward motion.

Nowadays, I call that inner-conflict I felt as a four-year-old in the museum winter exhibition, the “jump off the cliff” moments. Life presents you with these moments every so often, I believe, to test your character, courage, ability to step outside of your comforts. These are the moments where your heart knows what to do but the fear of uncertainty or apparent failure hold you back through hesitation, under the guise of protecting you.

I’ve had many of these moments.

We all have.

IMG_7119

Recently, I felt the familiar sting of regret, once again. It had been a while. It still sucked.

As a young girl, my grandmother Mac played a significant role in my life. Even into her eighties, I remember Mac as a smart-looking woman, immaculate glossy white permed curls, supple rosy cheeks, expertly-applied fuschia lipstick, a closet full of high-heeled YSL shoes, and charisma beaming from captivating electric eyes.

She was a petite little thing, so much so that she always drove her 1960’s Valiant perched upon a couple of opulent throw pillows, and even still, could just barely see over the steering wheel. Small as she was, one learned never to underestimate her. She was one of the most determined, brave, and stubborn women I knew. The eldest of 11 children, she had led a rebellious and adventurous life, and had learned many lessons from the school of hard knocks. Challenge and hardship were no match for her.

IMG_2361Over the years, I developed relationships with some of her siblings, my great aunts and uncles. Although we didn’t see him often, I remember visiting Roy, my great-uncle (through marriage). He was always good to us kids, bringing us gifts at Christmas. I remember one year he brought us special chocolates, a book of Christmas-edition life-savers I savoured for weeks, and a mini-bottle of Chanel N.5 I cherished throughout my middle-school years. As I grew up, attended high-school and university, I saw less and less of him, but thought of him affectionately as I looked back on those memories.

Fast forward to last year. A few months before Christmas, I learned that Roy was living in a nearby seniors housing centre and this would be the year of his 100th birthday. I tracked down his address and sent him a Christmas card, wishing him the best and expressing an interest in reuniting. A few months later, I received a response!

I told myself once my babies were a little older and it was a little easier, I would visit him.

A full year passed. It was Christmas again and I remembered my promise.

I searched out the number for the senior’s centre, called and left a message for Roy, introducing myself excitedly as his great-niece.

Two days later, I received a call from his son. Graciously, he immediately informed me of his father’s passing just a few months earlier. Expressing my sympathy and thanking him for the call, I hung up, regret weighing down upon my shoulders, once again.

In the hopes of escaping the discomfort, I quickly told myself not to worry…to forget about it.

But, the truth is, I was crushed.

I found myself reflecting upon the permanence of life and the value of every moment. I thought about the value and grace of my existing relationships. We have to cherish the relationships we have in the here and now.

Although, I can’t transport myself into the past, can’t change what has come to be, I can take this as a valuable lesson to quiet my hesitations, listen to my heart and trust my intuition to do what’s important.

“Regret is one of the most powerful emotional reminders that change and growth are necessary,” Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, asserts. “It’s a call to courage and a path toward wisdom…regret can be used constructively or destructively. ‘No regrets’ doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. Regret is what [teaches] me that living outside of my values is not tenable.”

 

Diapers, a Duchess, and the Disaster that Gained Me a Friend

The blood drained from my wearied face, as I stared at my smiling 8 –week-old son, sprawled precariously on the thin change pad barely separating him from the gritty and germ-ridden coffee shop bathroom floor upon which he lay.

Desperate times. Desperate measures.

My little man had just blown through his 5th diaper of the morning.

Through my “work” in the field as a mother and my own countless unfortunate, surprising, and embarrassing moments, I’ve come to an undisputed scientific conclusion:

Newborn babies are conveyor belts.

Nothing goes in without something coming out.

But, the real kicker?

As any parent knows, babies up their game when the stakes are excruciatingly high.

Public outings where finding any semblance of a change table becomes a veritable logistical-nightmare,

lengthy car rides,

and, my personal, much-revisited favourite, that moment when you’re about to put freshly changed Sweet Cheeks down for the night, visions of rest and relaxation dancing in your head.

My sister and I had chosen this particular sunny Saturday morning to venture downtown for our first shopping adventure, my then-two-year-old daughter in tow.

Coincidentally, Prince William, Duchess Kate, and their two children had come to visit our beautiful city on their Canadian tour. The crowd spilled out onto the streets. It was insane. Fanfare, celebration, and electric excitement was in the air.

Armed with idealism and naiveté, we walked amongst the people with a skip in our step.  We entered the first store, only to be hit hard within minutes by reality. Unyielding demands from the two-year-old for snacks, toys, and adventures behind sales counters combined with the very real need to feed a new baby, forced us to re-evaluate.

Shopping would have to wait.

We ducked into a popular nearby coffee shop chain and claimed the corner of a communal table for ourselves. We sipped, snacked, and scanned the room.

My eyes immediately met the kind eyes of a woman, busily tending to her own baby. Gentle-faced, warm, and open, she nodded and smiled at me silently signalling her solidary as a fellow mom.

Instantly, I was lurched back to the present by the unmistakable sound of The Blowout.

Clutching my black diaper bag close to my body and my son even tighter, I stood up, and painstakingly wove my way in and out of the bodies crammed in the serpentine queue for caffeine.

After an eternity, I reached tiny bathroom. There was a line up several people deep. When it was finally my turn, I shoved the door open, my eyes searching the room frantically for a change station.

“How is it possible that a busy coffee shop like this doesn’t have a change station?” I thought in frustration as I dug through the bag, retrieving a portable change mat and placing it on the greying, discoloured tile. This would have to do.

I couldn’t help but think how unlikely it would be for Duchess Kate to find herself in such a predicament, as I dug around for the diapers.

My heart stopped.

THE DIAPERS!

For a never-ending minute, panic and desperation washed over me in relentless waves.

I envisioned them sitting forgotten on the dark stone counter in my kitchen. In my state of new-mom-exhaustion, I had failed to actually pack them into my diaper bag.

Thankfully, having remembered the wipes, I cleaned my little guy up redressed him, and ventured out diaper-less. A scary, but necessary prospect.

Sheepishly, I made my way over to Solidarity-Mom. I felt stupid and exposed. Shame quickly followed suit. What kind of a mom forgets THE DIAPERS?

Smiling apologetically, I asked her to bail me out.

“Oh my goodness, of course!” She exclaimed with a warm smile, with neither pity nor judgement, but total empathy.

As she held out two diapers in her outstretched hand, I felt so grateful. It felt like she literally saved my life, or at the very least, my dignity.

That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I had to find a way to thank her.

I happen to be part of an outstanding mom’s Facebook group. These women build each other up, share stories without fear of judgement, and mobilize when tragedy strikes. In a world when motherhood can be a minefield of over-commitment, snotty noses, and unrealistic expectations, this group has been a beacon of strength for many.

I posted a short version of the story, exclaiming how impactful that moment had been for me, hoping to “pay it forward.” Numerous moms immediately commented, not only to reassure me that I was not alone in “screwing up”, but hoping we’d connect, becoming friends in the future.

Sure enough, within a few hours, Solidarity-Mom, Abbie, responded:

“That was me and you are more than welcome! By the way, my guy is 8-weeks old, too!”

As luck would have it, our baby boys were coincidentally born on the exact same day. After some back and forth, we made plans to meet up for a walk with some of the moms from the group. We hit it off, and it has become tradition to see each other as much as our packed schedules allow.

Because of the diaper disaster, not only have I gained a friend, but my son has, too.

Sometimes it seems hard not to believe that the universe works in mysterious ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handfuls of Hope

Old-and-Young-hands

“Why would God make me this way?” he threw his hands up exasperated, standing in the middle of the grocery aisle as she stood beside him.

My 84-year-old friend, Kate, a devout Christian, had spotted Sam immediately upon entering the grocery store that day, hunched over as he squinted at the ingredients on a box of cereal.

A resident in her senior’s complex, he had been struggling with presenting his true identity to the world. Born a female, Sam had recently decided to bravely transition in the last act of his life, through hormone therapy, to the man with whom he had always identified.

Adversity was no stranger to Sam. He struggled daily with depression and anxiety. He could be seen frequently breaking down publically, shouting angrily at passers-by from the steps of his apartment. Other residents in Kate’s complex tended to avoid Sam, unable to grapple with the uncertainty and erratic nature of their interactions.

He was often solitary.

He walked alone.

Shopped alone.

Spent every holiday alone.

Kate was always good to him. She made sure to honour and call him by his chosen name. She always acknowledged him in passing.

This day was a little different.

“Oh, I just can’t today,” she thought initially when she saw him standing there. She was exhausted after a long week of medical appointments and the last thing she wanted to do was navigate unpredictable waters with her neighbour. She began to turn on her heel for the opposite direction, to avoid Sam before he could see her.

But, in that moment, something stopped her.

She knew he needed her today.

So, she angled her cart toward Sam, and made her way over to him, greeting him sincerely with a big smile and a friendly “hello.”

He looked up, surprised, then, upon recognizing Kate, his face broke into a wide grin.

As it turns out, it had been a particularly difficult day for Sam. He had been contemplating his identity, struggling with whom he thought he had to be for the world to accept him, questioning his worthiness and existence.

They stood together, for a long time. She listened. He talked. She validated him as he revealed his fears. He felt safe and heard. Sometimes, that is all we seek.

There were tears and even a hug.

Before he turned to go, Sam stopped her suddenly, grasping her hand, “You know, Kate, I was feeling miserable earlier, but after talking to you, I feel…hopeful.”

My 84-year old friend, leaned in a little closer, placing her freckled hand on his shoulder and whispered gently, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”