Come Saturday morning,
I'm going away with my friend....
My mind traveled back to 1969 -- when Michael Lynn and I saw the movie "The Sterile Cuckoo" on one of our first dates. This song -- "Come Saturday Morning" was the theme music from that movie and it became a special song for us as well as our sweet relationship of hundreds of Saturdays was first beginning. He was an incredibly gentle, good-looking man with sandy blond hair, kind blue eyes and a sparkling smile. We shared a cautious approach to life, having largely deferred romance and relationships in college -- he at USC, me at Northwestern -- because we were so concentrated on completing our degrees and getting established in the workplace. He was a design engineer at Lockheed. I was beginning my writing career specializing in self-help psychology and health articles for 'TEEN Magazine.
We didn't take stability for granted: my father had lost his career years before to alcoholism. His father had left his mother for another woman when Michael was a toddler and his brother Jeff a newborn infant. And when Michael's father died of a heart attack some years later, he was already a distant memory to his two sons. Growing up with a single mother, Michael knew a lot about financial constraints and early responsibility.
And so we learned to play together -- going to the beach, going out for dinner at nice restaurants -- a first for both of us -- and traveling to places we had never dreamed we would go. It was with Michael that I first came to love Maui. It was with Michael, my first post-college boyfriend, that I started to become an adult. He was not my first love, but we were each other's first lovers and our time together was incredibly sweet and fun and memorable. My parents were fond of him. His wonderful mother showered me with love and kindness.
My only regret is not that we didn't end up together: we both married some years later to others who were both better matches for the people we had become and who continue to bless our lives with love both cherished and abiding.
No, my regret, looking back, is that I wasn't a nicer person then.
My immaturity and my residual anger over a failed relationship with my first love in college could, at times, darken our days together. These were times when I was critical and shrewish and a general pain in the ass. My youthful self-absorption and my anger about my unrequited college love, so unfairly displaced onto Michael, made me a trying companion at best. But Michael's patience, kindness and decency allowed our relationship to survive much longer than it would have with a less generous man.
What does one do with regrets?
Some people are consumed by them. Some people experience them as bittersweet recurring thoughts. Some see them as learning experiences.
And what do we tend to regret most?
A recent study revealed that people carry the most regrets in the areas of education, career and romance -- with few of us, even in these economically uneasy times, expressing financial regrets.
So what can you do with such regrets?
Explore the possibilities of changing your life to ease some regrets. My husband Bob regrets not getting more out of college, his years at Berkeley being ones of enthusiastic protesting, folk singing and exploring hedonistic pleasures uneasily coupled with times of deep loneliness. Academics were a somewhat lower priority. A brilliant man with a thirst for learning, he deals with some of his long-time regrets by making learning a daily activity -- taking courses online, on video and at the ASU center here in our community -- in physics, economics, history, philosophy and a myriad of other interests.
My cousin Caron, who passed up college for a happy marriage to her high school sweetheart, went to community college after her children were grown and found that she loved science -- and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. The experience hasn't caused her to try to forge a career in science -- she wouldn't change anything about her life as a wife, mother and, later on, as a nurturing school secretary to several generations of elementary school kids. But she loves discovering at this stage of life just how smart she is and how exciting science can be.
Do you regret career choices -- or making a choice by default? Career changes have become the norm these days -- often out of economic necessity, but sometimes because people are putting more value on finding work that is meaningful.
When she was young, my sister Tai worked a series of jobs she did well but hated. She regretted not taking our mother's advice to go into nursing, but didn't see a way to change her situation.
Then she had a major medical emergency -- an aneurysm that nearly ended her life -- and, as she lay recovering, the thought occurred to her that "This is not a dress rehearsal!" and she resolved to find a way to go back to school and get a nursing degree.
It was far from easy. She was a newly single mother of a toddler. Money was tight. She worked nights as a nursing aide and went to school days, entrusting her daughter to the community college day care center by day and to her soon-to-be ex-husband at night for several years. But, in the end, she had a career she loved -- and still loves -- as a labor and delivery nurse and a means to support her daughter on her own.
I know of some romantic regrets that have been resolved in surprising ways. My college friend Lisa always felt a pang of regret that she broke up with her high school sweetheart, whom she also dated her first two years of college. But life went on. She got married shortly after graduation to a man she loved and with whom she had two daughters. They were married more than 40 years and built a life together that came apart after his drinking escalated post-retirement. Once alone, Lisa explored the Internet and found her long-lost love, now widowed. They happily re-discovered their love and were married this past fall.
You may not happen to, or even desire to, re-discover a lost love or go back to school but you can ease the sting of regret by doing what you can in the present to learn something new or explore a career shift or to take lessons learned from past relationships and use these to improve or enhance your current one.
Start forgiving yourself. Forgiving yourself is critical to moving on with your life. Allowing yourself to ruminate, to beat yourself up, to continue to mourn what might have been keeps you locked in an unchangeable past. It also precludes making the regret a positive force in your life by learning from it and then moving on, wiser and more compassionate for your experience.
Ask yourself what your regrets can teach you now. When you find yourself looking back with regret, you're looking at a variety of chances to learn from your life experiences. Perhaps one can learn to think over choices more carefully, or to be open to change and new opportunities, or to be kind.
The latter is my takeaway from my own regret over the young woman I was when I darkened some of Michael Lynn's days. I am a kinder person now.
Some of this is due to growing maturity and insight.
Some of it is due to life's humbling experiences that have exorcised my youthful arrogance.
And some of my better self has evolved from knowing a loving young man with a sparkling smile who was so kind then and whose gentle friendship through the years -- with birthdays always remembered and Christmas cards that always make the season merry and phone calls at critical times like when my parents died, when his mother died, when I faced thoracic surgery -- has taught me a great deal about kindness and forgiveness.
We'll travel for miles with our Saturday smiles
And then we'll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday's gone....
When our romantic relationship was coming apart so many years ago, there was an anguished moment when Michael asked me "The years we've been together, the experiences we've had, the love we've shared....doesn't any of that mean anything to you?"
I don't remember what I replied then.
But now I look back and think that all those long ago Saturdays and other days with Michael Lynn mattered immensely. Learning lessons in playing, in love and in forgiveness from my sweet friend has meant so very much.