Ever since I was 17 when I walked out of an abusive foster home after my foster mother attempted to choke me, I made a pact with myself that I would never look back. I was now finally the captain of my fate and could decide my own destiny. Whatever the consequences, good or bad, they would be experiences from which to learn and grow.
As I was driving today, I realized that next year would be the 30th anniversary of that life-altering decision. Have I honored that commitment?
Everything that has happened along the way, all the way back to the time I was born, has made me the person I am today. I would not be human if I didn’t admit that it would have been nice to have gone through life without some of the horrendous situations, like the abuse I experienced as a child. But even those situations had positive side effects. Let me give you an example. If I had not been eventually abandoned by my mother, I would not have been placed in a foster home. Had I not been placed in the foster home, I would have never met my friend, Patty. If I never met my friend, Patty, I would have never met my future husband now of 18 years. Although you cannot imagine it at the time it is happening to you, good can come from evil. You can overcome tragic circumstances and have a happy and fulfilling life if you are willing to put in the hard work to change behaviors, stop the cycle of abuse, and commit to finding out what is “normal” when you’ve lived such a dysfunctional life. It truly is a matter of choice.
Having said that, there are a few things that still make my regret list:
1. Having come from a place in my heart of good intentions, my actions hurt a friend. Although she has forgiven me, I have not been able to forgive myself.
2. Helping someone I barely knew get home, a decision that had consequences I still deal with today even after therapy.
3. Hitting a few off-key notes at my vocal recital at Hamman Hall at Rice University. I know, it sounds like a silly one, but I never sang in public again.
4. Watching “Man of the Year” starring Robin Williams. I will never get that time back.
With the exception of that movie, the good news is that I still have time to fix the others.
The second part of living a life without regret is not having a long bucket list. While I have a variety of things I consider just “wishes”, there is only one item currently on my bucket list: I would like to go swimming with dolphins in the wild. After watching “The Cove” I could not in good conscience swim with dolphins in captivity, so I must venture to the open sea to fulfill this wish. I’ll have to remember to bring plenty of Dramamine.
None of us knows when our lives will be over. Live your life in the moment without regrets for the past. You cannot overly worry about the future either. If you find yourself saying, “if only” or “what if” too often every day, you cannot focus on the pleasures and sorrows of the here and now. Although I thought I knew this lesson well, having my son with severe autism (and other disabilities) only deepened my understanding of what that truly meant. In order to build a bridge to reach him, I had to be present with him. I would sometimes spend hours with him in our playroom we built just for him to make some sort of connection. There were times he appeared catatonic and would only briefly look up and around. I had to make myself his favorite toy in the room. I noticed that if I was looking up at the clock or worrying in my head about all the things I had to get done in the house, he would be less responsive to me. Somehow, he knew. There was no faking out this child. It took a long time, but we built that bridge. I repeated to him verbally quite often that if he felt that his world was safer for him that I was going to be totally 100% okay with that. I was not trying to fix him; I was sending him an invitation. He eventually RSVP’d a “yes” response.
Yes, he has challenges. Yes, life will not be easy for him as he ages. Yes, there have been many sacrifices that this diagnosis came with, including my health. He has been my greatest blessing and my life teacher. How many parents can say they still find magic in their kids making eye contact with them 15 years after they were born? How many parents pull their hair out during the teenage years when their children start rebelling, yet I would give my life just to have 24 hours to have a real conversation with him. I learned to never take anything for granted. To live my life as free as possible of regret one minute at a time.