What is the difference between us and…. an Amitabh Bachchan or a Leonardo DiCaprio? If your answer is that they are superstars and you and I are not, you are only partially right. The real difference is they believed in their dreams and pursued their passion despite no guarantees of super-stardom.
Late in life, when all is quiet, what smites the soul is the stuff not done. When young we are too busy living, learning, travelling, earning, pining etc. Then suddenly we are sixty or seventy and, oops, not done what we always wanted to do.
Regretting what you didn’t do is only trumped by what you
did do but shouldn’t have. What's said cannot be unsaid, what's done cannot be undone. Unfortunately, it comes back to haunt us much after all is said and done. As birthdays pass us by, the rewind button goes into a loop.
Many a men gaze into the sunset very, very sorry that their wives are no longer with them. Life was spent pleasing the boss or working the mortgage off; now they are all alone, spouses dead or divorced, with all the time in the world but neither health nor company. And now there is too much time on hands to ruminate, meditate, taste in your mouth the ashes of all you wanted but never went after.
The word ‘karma’ comes in for a lot of flak; no one quite knows what it means. It could be inclusive of reaping what we sow. To sit in a therapist’s office, like countless people before us, and rehash mistakes becomes a rite of passage in old or middle age. Between ‘we should have’ and ‘we shouldn’t have’ hinges our sanity.
Two researchers – one from the New School for Social Research and the other from Cornell University – recently came to some conclusion on this subject. Deepest regrets, they found out, come from not pursuing our most ambitious dreams. According to them, these include giving up on playing a musical instrument, not being able to travel the world and not chasing after the one you love.
When it comes to wishes that went unfulfilled there are politically correct and politically incorrect ones. No one regrets bringing up kids or nursing a sick parent. But if only they'd climbed Mt Everest or joined a rock band!
The thing is, most of life we go about doing what is called the right thing. Caught between duty and discipline we seldom detour to strange backyards or blind alleys. The memory of that holding back can turn toxic.
Remember when Meryl Streep almost got out of her husband's car in
The Bridges of Madison County when she sights Clint Eastwood? It almost seemed unforgivable that she could do that to the man she loved – not join him forever. Regrets are sometimes just a result of extreme common sense. We’d rather break our hearts than someone else’s.
Then, as we age, the heart has the last word.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns