Well….you know it was a good party when 90% of the attendees are fully incapacitated the next day.
The cult had a party last night, folks, and it got a little out of hand. As a result, other than some critical cleaning up (my kitchen looked like — what else? — the Wreck of the Hesperus), I was part of the 90%, and have spent one of the few days I have at home lounging around being aimless, rather than cleaning out my office, organizing my files, and starting a new project.
I hate wasting time, and I really hate being sidelined by illness or injury. Today I was sidelined — not by injury, thank goodness (no doubt thanks to my two table mates making me knock on wood last night when I stupidly tempted fate by saying I wasn’t going to the ER this trip! Thanks for looking out for me, dudes) — but by my own inability to resist the whispering of a great bottle of wine. Or multiple bottles of wine…. I don’t know, I lost count. They were whispering really loud.
One of my buddies lost a friend this weekend, and when I saw him and told him how sorry I was about that, he said something to the affect of, “It’s okay. It’s life.” He wasn’t being flippant; it simply wasn’t the time or place to go any deeper into conversation, but more to the point, death is part of life. In fact, it’s the one thing we all have in common.
I lost a friend a few months ago – a woman I’d known for almost 30 years, who was smart and funny and beautiful and a wonderful mom – and I’m still reeling from the insult of it all. She is not the first person I’ve loved and lost, not by a long shot, but for some reason it seemed so hideously unfair that she was taken that I was stunned and furious when her situation became hopeless…and I still am, when I allow myself to think about her.
It seems like such a slap in the face when people we love die, doesn’t it? I’m not sure if it’s the seeming disinterest of God or the limitations of modern medicine or the hand of fate we’re angry at — maybe it’s all of them — but I do think most of us experience equal parts anger and sadness when we lose someone we value. Anger and sadness, and inevitably some regret, too — for all the times we were too busy to call, too tired to write, too caught up in our own story to make time for theirs…
Regret, like guilt, isn’t a particularly useful emotion, simply because you can’t undo what’s been done, or what’s been left undone. Wallowing in regret, like wallowing in guilt, is both pointless and self-defeating. All you can really do is move on, and try to do better in the future.
Doing better, I think, means constantly keeping in mind the fact that THIS IS IT. This, right now, is your final go-round on the planet. And if you know that, you might just decide that cleaning your office was far less important than spending an epic evening with your friends (even if that epic evening resulted in an epic hangover). You might decide that work that’s not actually saving anyone’s life will still be there tomorrow, and make time for a conversation or a cup of coffee along the way. You might choose to prioritize your life a bit differently, knowing that there are no do-overs.
You might even decide to make some major changes.
An Australian woman named Bronnie Ware worked a variety of jobs before landing in palliative care, where the primary aim is relieving the pain and stress of dying. I don’t know Bronnie Ware and I haven’t read her work or even heard her Ted Talk, but I came across an interview about her book called “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.” Based on the experiences of Ware’s patients at the end of their lives, here are the five biggest regrets:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
According to an interview Ware, this was the most common regret. Ware said, “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship,” Ware said. “All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Ware said, “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved,” Ware said.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice,” Ware said. “They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
[Here’s a link to the full article, if you’re interested: Bronnie Ware, Huffington Post ]
These are worthwhile things to ponder, I think. Once when I was deep in a quagmire of indecision, my friends S & K asked me to do something a little different than my usual modus operandi, which is to do a gut check — how does my gut react when I think about doing or not doing something? Elated? Anxious? Horrified? Thrilled?
“If it was your last day on Earth, how would you want to spend it, and with whom?” they demanded. “Answer right now, without thinking about it.”
That helped clarify things for me, for sure.
So that’s the challenge for this week. If you knew your days were numbered (and by the way, they are!), what three things would you change first?