Stealing from a Thief

“You can tell it any way you want but that’s the way it is. I should of done it and I didn’t. And some part of me has never quit wishin’ I could go back. And I can’t. I didn’t know you could steal your own life. And I didn’t know that it would bring you no more benefit than about anything else you might steal. I think I done the best with it I knew how but it still wasn’t mine. It never has been. ”

― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Have you ever wondered at seeing a person mourn the death of a loved one if the mourner is grieving the end of wonderful memories, or whether the tears are those of remorse?

I have.

And I determined early that such a mourner would not be me. I was staking claim on my life. Yessir. I was a romantic bent on living the dream, convinced that life could be lived without a shred of regret.

How’s that for optimism?

The past was past. I couldn’t change that. But I believed that from a marked moment in time—a monument of new beginnings, I could somehow choose well enough, right enough that when I finally arrived at the end I would lift my soul cupped in my hands up toward heaven, a gift to God, and regret nothing. I made a promise to myself to do just that. I would make good choices. The best choices.

Then optimism punched me in the throat a time or two. Maybe three.

Life got hard.

Still, I failed to understand that to regret nothing, to refuse my clumsy brokenness and need for forgiveness, was merely cowardice. Maybe even a crime. (A famous author wrote something to this affect and I stole it….)

Convinced that my theory only needed a good hard tweak—after all, I couldn’t regret something for which an opportunity was never presented—I revamped. I reasoned, for example, that I could not lament having married as a teenager before going to college or going to one university in particular rather than another.

Granted, a few big hairy regrettable mistakes were made along the way, but I was still dandy: maybe the leadership gurus were right, failures of yesterday are gems of tomorrow: sand into pearls, dirt into diamonds, shit into perfume… yes, almost criminal. A bit of truth spun hard to make us all feel better.

When I reflect back, it’s not just missed opportunities I see. I find wasted time, selfish thoughts, mean words, manipulations, neglected friendships … and most of those doled out in the name of Love.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets,” wrote Arthur Miller.

Leave it to the novelists to awaken truth.

What is a right regret? Truth telling. Forgiveness. I am more sure now than ever of how hard life is and how many people are carrying their own burdens of remorse. I can’t speak to theirs except to mention the Author of Second Chances. When I reach out to touch the sleeve of an old woman whose life was stolen as a result of one very bad decision, or to hug a child whose greatest sorrow is having remained silent, I discover a sacred moment.

And, it is only in the night when I kneel and take account of the things I’ve done and things I’ve left undone, I figure I’m stealing from a thief.

What does it mean for you to end up with the right regrets?