I watched a documentary that featured Edith Piaf the other week and since then, I’ve had the chorus of her most famous song intermittently blaring out in my head. ‘Je regrette rien’ took on added poignancy yesterday as I found myself lying in bed, unable to sleep and mulling over the things in life that I do regret. I guess this reflects that I now suddenly have a lot of time to think, but is probably also because I feel like I am leaving an old life behind and beginning a new one. What do I regret about the old one?
After a lot of inner wrangling, and a lot of journal writing, I realised that my regrets are generally not about events or opportunities; there was little ‘I wish I had done this’ or ‘I was I had taken that chance’. Instead, my regrets focused overwhelmingly on times when I feel that I didn’t maintain the standard of integrity to which I aspire – the times when I let someone down, or didn’t do what I knew was right, or behaved in a way that I am not proud of. This realisation – this sense of clarity about what it is that I end up regretting – was extremely cathartic, turning what could have been a depressing, soul-destroying exercise into something that ultimately I can learn from. This probably attests to my self-help geekery, but after all the soul-searching, I was able to draw up a list of ‘actions’ and ways to move forward and develop. For each regret, I thought about what I could do to alter that feeling. In many cases, I came up with a simple action or gesture that will, to some degree, allow me to make amends or simply express my regret to the other person involved. This may not be the ideal solution, it may not compensate for whatever has happened (intentional or not), but sometimes this is the only option – particularly if we’re years down the line. In other instances, I had to simply let that regret ‘be’; there may be nothing that can be done – either by me or by anyone else – and I can’t carry that sense of burden round forever. Sitting in the quiet of the middle of the night, it felt a suitable moment to pause and reflect on these regrets and let them drift off, float away….
Crucially, from all my regrets, I take away a valuable lesson. Actually facing these negative feelings, and thinking about my own role within them, has made me more aware about my own behaviour – tendencies that I have, automatic reactions that perhaps are not the healthiest in the longer-term. I can see the damage that can be caused and I can try to alter my behaviour. This may not be easy, but it is better than stumbling along blindly, unaware and unknowing, making the same mistakes over and over and over. At the end of this phase in my life, I have looked and learnt from my past. And hopefully I’ll be able to sing more heartly along with Piaf in the future: rrrrrien, rrrrrien… non, je rrrregrette rrrrien… I just need to practise rolling my rs.