It’s a bold statement for sure, one I could never have spoken or thought words during my occasional lapses into depression and insecurity. In such horrible moods I regretted absolutely everything, on my worst days even life itself. That I am so far from these awful feelings is definitely a gift of Divine Grace, the fruit of loving support from Kathie, children Cameron and Hannah, from, family and numerous colleagues, all aided by medical and spiritual professionals. I have known the dark (and certainly do recommend Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark which was so helpful to me in my distress). I have likewise known and met many who have walked in a similar dim light over the years. Even in happier times, to a greater or lesser degree regret seems to haunt us all. Kathie has just finished reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. She describes the book in these words:
“It is a book about a woman who is living in a point of her life where she doesn’t feel as though she has lived her life very well. She feels as though she has walked away from opportunities, let people down, been afraid to enter relationships. So she decides to take her life. She somehow ends up in a strange library with a woman who was her primary school librarian who introduces her to a large book about all the regrets she has had in her life. She then is offered the opportunity to pick a book off of the shelves which is about an alternative to the regretful situation that she lived in her life. In a fantastical way, she is then living this “new life” where she didn’t walk away from the opportunities or walk away from relationships. As she lives in this new scenario, she discovers the life she anticipated is not always what she is after.”
The book continues to stir a conversation between us; what do we regret as we move into our riper years? For me, there’s all sorts of things I once regretted, decisions I would have definitely put on the list two years ago – moving north to attempt missionary service; not pursuing graduate theological or musical studies; entering the priesthood – all vocational decisions and ambitions which seriously threatened my confidence while walking in despair. Now from a more comfortable place and space, after hard work and healing, all make some sort of sense in what has been and continues to be a rather serendipitous life which continues to unfold in surprising directions every single day.
Yes regret is a part of my life, but it is no longer a destructive presence. I say to myself and to others what I have done well with what I have been dealt and I hope this is increasingly true for others. Sure, we all make mistakes and it can take months, years , even decades to learn from poor choices (and to celebrate good decisions as well). One friend says that we simply make the best decisions we can at the time — this may or may not be true; some people pay more attention to decision-making processes than others; some consider the consequences of turning points better than others. Every decision has a context and a community. I have never found the passive view — that life simply happens — to be true in my case. I remember a funny incident at Victoria’s Westshore Mall a few years ago. Approaching the entryway a colleague and I chose a different door – me through a manual door which was sticky and required a stiff tug to open — my accomplished colleague chose the automatic door and entered with no effort. While exaggerated, it’s the story of my life!
The title quote above is from a famous French song by Edith Piaf, a legendary singer from early 20th Century France. My Grade Nine French teacher Mr. O’Connell played it to our class one day — he got very worked up about it, almost growling, saying that it was real. We culturally comfortable Oak Bay students likely had little sense of what was real, at least I had no idea. Piaf grew up the child of itinerant circus and street performers on the streets of Paris. She grew up in a brothel; in later years she was afflicted by illness, injury and addiction. So when she sings Non, je ne regrette rien that is significant.
Her words could never be mine. She grew up and lived rough. I knew only comfort and illusion. She was both celebrated and victimized. Her affections and afflictions flowed like a mighty river. But she sang, and we continue to listen, and marvel at the many ways life is lived — in times of peace and war, times of ease and struggle, times of plenty and famine, times of rich community and times of bitter loneliness.
Can we all sing with Edith Piaf? I certainly understand that for some, abuse, poverty, the effects of warfare, the reality of inter-generational trauma, ecological grief and frustration, all are limiting realities for many. Still I hope that many of us can sing together “No, nothing at all, No, I regret nothing, Because my life, because my joys, Today, I begin with you.” Let us at the very least, try.
Non, rien de rien, Non, je ne regrette rien, Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait, Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal. Non, rien de rien, Non, je ne regrette rien, C'est payé, balayé, oublié, Je me fous du passé. Avec mes souvenirs, j'ai allumé le feu, Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n'ai plus besoin d'eux, Balayées les amours, avec leurs trémolos, Balayées pour toujours, je repars à zéro Non, rien de rien, Non, je ne regrette rien, Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait, Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal. Non, rien de rien, Non, je ne regrette rien, Car ma vie car mes joies, Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi.
No, nothing at all, No, I regret nothing Not the good things they did to me Nor the bad – may as well be the same to me! No, nothing at all, No, I regret nothing. It's bought and paid for, wiped away, forgotten, I don't give a damn about the past! With my memories I've lit up the fire Of my troubles, my pleasures, I don't need them any more! Wiped away the romances And all their instabilities Swept away for eternity I restart at zero No, nothing at all, No, I regret nothing Not the good things they did to me Nor the bad -- may as well be the same to me! No, nothing at all, No, I regret nothing Because my life, because my joys Today, I begin with you