. . . but then again, too few to mention.” Paul Anka wrote those lyrics as part of “My Way” and Frank Sinatra made them famous. But millions of people relate to them. I am one.
Except I am going to mention them!
I’m doing this because the beginning of a new yeare is the traditional time to assess the past year and make resolutions for the future. I usually do some version of that. But this time, as I approach 70, I find myself reflecting on my entire life as much as I am on 2017, and I realize, while I acknowledge changing the past would have altered the direction of my life and impacted who I am today, I would have made some changes. That contradicts my well-documented belief in fate and destiny; I do believe that things happen and don’t happen for a reason. Events lead us on the path we were meant to follow. And yet I would have made some changes. I would have done some things differently. I do have some regrets. There were decisions and choices I made that I would have handled differently were it possible to go backward in time.
I have two regrets from my high school years. First, I would not have feared as much or perceived as a threat those boys who were labeled jocks and/or “bad boys.” There was a cross-over between those groups because some “bad boys” were also athletes. I made the mistake of assuming all the “bad boys’” teammates condoned or supported their immature behavior and troublemaking. In essence, I discriminated against a number of decent and interesting athletic guys because of a label and their associations. I denied myself the opportunity to know them and to understand their complexities, contradictions, and individuality. I also assumed the “bad boys” had no shadings. I take responsibility for and regret that. Why, one could ask, though, did I attribute these classmates with simplistic labels, clichéd stereotypes, and nothing more? Well, the answer, in hindsight, is obvious. I used the distance as protection so they would not discover my lavender-colored secret, something I was certain none, since it was the 1960s, could understand. If they find out my secret, I thought, if I get too close to any of them and expose my true self, whether intentional or accidental, my life will be ruined. So, instead, I avoided them, played it safe with more nurturing female friends, focused on time-consuming school activities, and was more of a goody-two-shoes than “one of the guys.”
Oddly, my involvement in school activities also is at the core of my other high school regret. I wish I had taken drama class. But there was a stigma regarding boys in theater then, a stigma related to my lavender-colored secret. And I was determined to hide that secret. Besides, drama took commitment and time and I already was giving that to student government, the newspaper, and, ironically, yell leading. Add to that mix homework and a social life, and drama class taught by the courageous Jay Pollette got left out. In hindsight, drama would have been a tremendous outlet for my need to perform and express. But, more important, it would have taught me the helpful life skill of memorization. I still struggle with memorizing to this day; throughout my life, when I have had to make presentations, I have read from notes far more than I spoke from memory.
I studied Spanish as a high school junior and senior and again as a college freshman. I did well. But once I stopped studying the language, it became part of my past. I don’t recall using it again until my first visit to Puerto Vallarta decades later. By then, of course, I had forgotten most of what I had learned. I survived that bustling Mexican resort because, as well-seasoned travelers know, one doesn’t need much Spanish there. English is spoken wherever tourists go. But since that trip, I have regretted failing to follow up my high school and college Spanish classes with regular Mexico travels after I had graduated. That would have etched the language better in my memory, making me more fluent in a second language.
I have lived in Mexico for several years and my Spanish skills have remained at the level they were when I arrived. But, like Puerto Vallarta, advanced Spanish is not needed in Ajijic. English abounds. I speak Spanish when I can or it is necessary, but it is simple, filled with errors, and limited to the present tense and regular verbs. That is embarrassing, can be problematic, and is an insult to my Mexican neighbors. After all, this is their country. As a result, I plan to improve my Spanish in 2018. Finally.
I was born and raised in Seattle. Therefore, for me, it was a given: I would attend the University of Washington. I never considered attending another school. Why should I? I rationalized. The UW is a respected school, has a quality School of Communications, and is convenient. The truth, however, was I was scared to leave family, Seattle, and that which I knew. In hindsight, leaving home for college would have done me immeasurable good. I would have learned to face my insecurities and I would have acquired confidence long before I did.
When I graduated from college, I had another opportunity to leave Seattle and separate myself from my parents and away from familiarity. But I was “coming out” when I graduated and was discovering a new Seattle. It was exciting. Any desire to or interest in relocating was stifled by this newly discovered world. As a result, I did not leave my hometown, my comfort zone, or my family’s proximity until I was 35 when I finally found the courage to move to Portland, Oregon. While there were several reasons why I made this move, a major one simply was to prove to myself I could survive away from home. And I did.
Perhaps the greatest regret I have involves my mother, or should I say how I dealt with my mother. My mother was a complicated woman and our relationship was difficult. As I progressed through my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, I followed, what I thought, was a step-by-step understanding of the dynamic. I thought I comprehended the crippling, negative impact she had had on me and, as a result, I shunned any suggestion by others or generated by my own inner thoughts that I see a psychiatrist. This was based on the fear that I would be advised to confront my demons or the cause of my problems, a practice I had seen suggested countless times by TV counselors. Confronting my mother, I had long before learned was an unwinnable situation. Besides, I told myself, I already understand it all. I’ve put it together. I got it.
But, when, in my early 60s, a separate work-related situation arose, I did seek counseling. In a short time, my counselor managed to connect that situation to my mother and the core of my feelings for her. He bridged a gap I had never considered and helped me see myself and my life clearer. As a result of his work, I made attitude changes and personal improvements and continue to use what he helped me see to this day. Therefore, I regret having avoided counseling for those many decades.
Those are, I feel, the major regrets I have had in life. Were it possible, I would go back in time and make different decisions, take other forks in the road of life. That, however, would have altered the direction of my life. And that creates a conflict, a great conundrum for a person who believes in fate and destiny. How could I look back with regrets and wish I had made different decisions when I believe the path in life each of us follows is meant to be and is the right one? Maybe I will understand this contradiction better in 2018. Maybe I won’t. And maybe I will regret having exposed this part of me. Maybe I will regret having written this.