One of the human qualities I most appreciate, about myself and about others, is curiosity, and its cousin courage. A person who wonders is a person who is engaged with life regardless of their age or circumstances. From the trivial (how many people DO live in Chicago?) to the profound (why did God bother to create us after all?), and from the person across the table (what are you passionate about?) to the nation across the world (what IS daily life like in the jungles of New Guinea?), wondering is energizing. At its finest it might even give one the courage to seek out first-hand answers. At the least it gives permission to take time to google for answers or to risk asking an in-depth question of a neighbor, and listening deeply to the answer. Curiosity is a skill that can enrich life for everyone.
One of the human qualities I most dislike, about myself and about others, is regret, and its cousin second-guessing. A person who regrets what has gone before is likely to fear moving ahead. And then tomorrow they may regret the steps they didn’t take today. It’s a vicious cycle. One who regrets is one who cannot like themselves. Even if they don’t fully regret a decision, second-guessing (so maybe that wasn’t a wrong decision, but was it the best decision? Maybe I shoulda . . .) can rob life of its vigor. What a depleting waste of a lifetime!
This past week my friend Effie and I were talking about a practice we learned in our Circle of Caring, a long-term group focused on proactive aging. We called the practice “the five important words,” but the “words” are mostly short phrases: Please forgive me, I forgive you, I love you, Thank you, and Goodbye. Effie was recalling how she and her husband Mark took one of the last days of his life to hold these words, one at a time, and say them to each other, laughing and crying over all the details they could remember about their lives together as they repeated each phrase clearly – and for the last time.
I’ve been thinking a lot today about that relationship practice. I’m aware that we needn’t wait until one of us is dying to erase regrets from our lives by giving and asking for forgiveness. We can express gratitude and love today, and acknowledge that there may not ever be a better time than now to do so, because there may not be a tomorrow. Should tomorrow come, how good it will be not to drag another day’s-worth of regret into it!
And how about the relationship I have with the person I see in the mirror every day? She, too, craves assurance that the choices she made all along the way to this day were good ones. She needs to know that I like her, that person I see in the mirror, and that if she had not made the choices she made, she would not be the one I smile at now. Can I thank her for her choices and life experiences? Can I share forgiveness with her for the times she and I have doubted and judged each other? Can I look into her eyes and tell her of my love for her? Can I tell her goodbye, just in case we don’t see each other again? And when I click off the light over the mirror, can I smile at the nudge of curiosity about what this new day might hold for me?
Second-guessing is not a satisfying hobby; regrets are not a good reward for living. But playing with curiosity, and allowing courage to take me by the hand to explore what I wonder about – even, some day, as far as my own experience of dying – that’s how I want to live!
I once heard the phrase “worry is a waste of the imagination” and it has stuck with me for decades. I think regrets are similar to worries. Neither seem to get one to gratitude very quickly.
Let’s toast to curiosity soon!
I think you’re right. Both worry and regret are paralyzing and unproductive. But curiosity, imagination, courage – I’ll drink to those! L’chayim!
It does occur to me that I am curious about the times when I regretted the consequences of my curiosity. Nevertheless, curiosity has been a staple of my existence (I am, of course, curious about my very existence!), and I do not regret that.
Cynthia, I so appreciate your expression of some of the realities of this human adventure. I am grateful for your sensitivity and your clarity.
Leave it to a rabbi to conflate the concepts!
I’d say that if following the curiosity came before feeling the regret, you’re absolved from the regret – so long as you can shrug and say, “Well, THAT was a learning . . .!” and move on.
Ain’t it some great adventure?!
More votes for curiosity – yeah! I have been a curious person, in both senses and it has at times gotten me into trouble.
Regret is looking back, judging and not accepting what’s there. Perhaps the only thing worse is worry, the other side of the coin. It is looking forward and imagining disaster or at least undesirable outcomes. There are much better uses of our imagination.
Another vote for creative imagination!
That has to be another cousin to curiosity don’t you think?
Much along the lines of what Allen was saying, I recall what we did with the Boy Scouts after each adventure. We would circle up, hold hands, and each take a turn revealing their personal “Thorns and Roses” of the adventure. You had to express something you didn’t like followed by something you did like. A lot of the time the boys would repeat what others said before them, but you would be amazed what some of the boys would tell their friends that they didn’t like. More importantly to me were the little nuggets of love shown in appreciation for a minute act of kindness, generosity or caring shown on our adventure.
I assume that the leaders and chaperones would participate as well? How wonderful for young men to have role models who can speak kindly and truthfully in “unpacking” a group experience.
My first wife and I had a practice each night of telling each other the things we appreciated about each other and the things we, I don’t remember the word — it’s the opposite of appreciate –. There had to be an equal number of both, or at least one appreciation for each non-appreciation. And it pertained only to that day. It could be something major — I appreciate that you supported me when I . . . . I “don’t appreciate” you crashed the car. Or it could be minor — “I appreciate the way your hair looks today. . . . I “don’t appreciate” the clothes you have on. We did these each night before going to sleep, appreciations last. Got us through some difficult times. And ultimately, we both appreciated how easy the other was to work with during the divorce.
Leave it to you to have a different slant on things: the Five Important Words being useful in smoothing the way through a divorce! Thanks, Allan. I always appreciate your comments.
Beautiful reminders, dear one! I allow myself only one regret, and I don’t think it is quite in the category you speak of. I do regret that I never had piano lessons as a child growing up. But certainly NOT attempting to learn to play, and accepting my limitations, as an adult.
Yet I happen to know that you play the flute exquisitely – you brought the pleasure of music (even if not piano) to others for years.