That one small sentence, “have no regrets,” has been a watch phrase of mine for years. It was my grandfather, whom we all called “Bumpa,” who told me this during a visit. We had said our goodbyes, and as he started down the foyer stairs, he put his hand on the wrought-iron railing, and looked up at me. He told me how he and his friends had visited his sister years ago when he was a young man. She had begged them to stay overnight as the weather was bad. But they were young and eager to get on the road. So they thanked her, but said that no, they had to be on their way.
They left, and later on, either something happened to her or perhaps they just didn’t see each other again–I don’t remember which. But it was always on his mind that he didn’t spend that time with her that he could have. He wished he could have gone back to that night and stayed at his sister’s house instead of leaving, but of course that wasn’t possible.
So that evening as Bumpa left, he said, “Have no regrets. Do the things you feel you want to do or feel you should do.” I have never forgotten this. He wasn’t one to get too close or reveal too much, and he was a deeply complicated man. I think that his gruffness was a cover to protect his feelings (too close to the surface, which bothered him). Even when I was young, I got that about him. We didn’t speak of it, but his emotions were clear to me. I never forgot his message, either.
I have tried since then to NOT have regrets. There were so many foolish and downright dangerous things I did when I was young that should have killed or gravely injured me ten times over. Heaven only knows how many bad decisions I made, too. For all I have been given, for all the kindness and generosity shown me, for all the love and support of my mother and father, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, and everyone who has crossed my path and brought joy to it–I am profoundly thankful and grateful.
I turned 64 this past July. I figure I have perhaps 25 or 30 more years in front of me, and in that time, I can do a lot of paying back and paying forward. Even if I had 100 years ahead of me and I did something good at least once a day, it wouldn’t be enough to balance out all I’ve been given.
So, call it a “bucket list” or fulfilling my dreams, or whatever you want to call it, that’s my purpose as I see it, now and for the rest of my life. It was and is governed by that phrase from so long ago, “have no regrets.”