DAILY PROMPT: CHILDLIKE
Explain your biggest regret — as though to a small child
My dear grandchildren
First of all – I love you all from the bottom of my heart, and I am intensely proud of each and every one of you. Your parents (whom I also love and am proud of) are bringing you up to be good people – honest, honourable and caring – and I know without doubt that you will become responsible, compassionate adults who do what you believe is right, and can work out for yourselves what ‘right’ is.
There will inevitably be things about your lives that you wish had been different, and things you do yourselves that you regret.
Nobody is perfect, not your parents, and not you. (In fact people who think they’re perfect are know-it-alls, very boring and not nice to know.) The idea of perfection is what keeps us always striving to do better – even when we’re old and grey, like me! – and often we learn the most from our mistakes.
Should we try to put right the mistakes we make that hurt other people? Of course! Should we try to change decisions that have led us to things and places we don’t like? If that means we’ve ended up in bad company, or doing what we know is wrong, then YES. Absolutely! But sometimes when we make decisions that don’t turn out as we’d hoped, we learn the very lessons we most needed to learn.
Which brings me back to regret. Being sorry is one thing. Regret is something else. It’s that gnawing inside that doesn’t leave you alone, that keeps telling you you’ve been stupid – wrong – that you’ve messed up your life. And THAT is something you must always, instantly get rid of, because it sits there like a hungry crocodile, causing you so much pain that you can’t get on with what you should be doing: learning from your mistakes and setting out to do better in future.
This, my darlings, is how life works: learning from the past and doing better in future. Regret would like to stop you. Don’t let it.
When I was about your age, my father told me that if only was the most useless phrase is the English language. It doesn’t, he pointed out, change anything. It only stops you enjoying the ‘now’. And what’s more, he said, you can never entirely recall the situation in which you made any past decision. You might recall the circumstances, but you can never feel again as you did then, and it’s the feeling you had that’s possibly the most important thing.
And that’s what I want to say to you as well. If only is the most useless phrase in the English language. You can’t change the past. What you must do is use it to make a better future.