cocktail party photo


Where I live, on a large island floating in the Salish Sea, there aren’t many urbane, urban-style cocktail parties. That’s a good thing, to me, because COCKTAIL PARTY is on my list of things I don’t do.

I used to be able to make small talk and feign interest with a fake smile. When I couldn’t manage that any longer I learned to create small parties inside large ones. At the last cocktail party I ever attended, in the penthouse suite of a large hotel, another guest and I (nursing our third drinks as I recall) huddled in a corner and figured out how to solve most of our country’s social ills. He, a Michigan State Patrol officer, and I, a non-profit grant writer, decided we would use all social service funding only for people under the age of three. We could lavish them with all the nutrition, health care, education, and interpersonal communication training they needed, and we’d teach them how to become exceptional parents for the next generation. Anyone over the age of three when our brilliant project began would simply have to fend for themselves until society had righted itself. We thought we had a damned fine plan. But that was thirty years ago – I think I’m wiser and kinder now. And I don’t do cocktail parties any more.

Another thing on my list: I’m an adventurous eater; I’ll eat anything – with just two exceptions. I’ve known for decades that I don’t do SARDINES. I literally can’t force one to pass my lips. Then this past summer I discovered another “don’t do.” Anna, my eldest granddaughter, just graduated from college and came from Michigan for a lovely visit. She’s a fan of microbreweries, so we went pub-hopping. Turns out I like the “pub” part, but not the HOPS in the beers and ales. Not even in “hopped cider.” It makes me feel ill. Just can’t do it.

Also, I don’t do UGLY. I know beauty is subjective, but if an object isn’t beautiful in the eyes of this beholder, I don’t want it at all.

And I don’t do UMBRELLAS. They’re more of an encumbrance than a protection, even – and especially – during a windy downpour.

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t do REGRET. Regretting has two cousins: worrying and second-guessing. Worry is regretting today something that might happen tomorrow (and as a friend says, “it’s a waste of imagination”); second-guessing is worrying today about whether one should be regretting something that happened yesterday. Pretty silly tail-chasing, I think. It’s not that regret, worry, and second-guessing never cross my mind – they do. But I let them go as quickly as possible. To grasp them, collect and nurture them – that’s a waste of precious energy.

We all have to make choices all the time. We all have to make decisions. The grown-up thing to do is take responsibility for those decisions, perhaps making an apology or two along the way. Some choices will turn out as you expect and some won’t, but eventually all decisions, made with good intention, will get you to where you’re supposed to be. It may not be where you expected to be, and it may have taken a very circuitous route to get there, but you will arrive where you are meant to be, having learned what you were meant to learn. No cause for regret. I believe that with my whole being.

I’m glad the social changes the trooper and I planned at that cocktail party didn’t see the light of day, and I probably deserved the headache I had the next morning. But I don’t regret having played with the idea – it led to other ways of thinking about marginalization.

I don’t regret anything that has happened in my life, even the really, really awful things. All of them have molded me into who I have become. And I like who I am. I don’t regret myself at all.

I simply don’t “do” regret, any more than I “do” umbrellas, ugly, cocktail parties, hops . . . and sardines.

sardine photo

REFLECTION photoOne 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!