Don’t I wish? Good intentions may not lead to hell, but they can lead to a life of regrets—if only and what if. With age, I have acquired enough experience to know that I am happiest when I seek to live life without regrets, without all the “should haves”—all the times I procrastinated until it was too late—pricking my conscience.
My cousin in Alabama taught me an important lesson. She and her husband lived in San Antonio one year, and they contacted me when they were transferred there, saying they wanted to make the 150-mile trip to Corpus Christi to see my mother and me. Their year flew by, and they returned to Alabama without making the trip. When Mama died in 1988, my cousin wrote to express her deep regrets that she had not followed through on her good intentions.
Her letter nagged at me. I had four elderly aunts living in the Houston area, New Orleans and northeast Louisiana—as well as friends like family in Texarkana—whom I seldom saw. As an adult, I never visited them. Two years later, as our first grandchild’s first birthday approached, I decided to take a long road trip, ending in Oklahoma City for the birthday party, where Lev and his mother would join us. Shortly after my trip, one of my aunts died and another moved to Seattle. I was so glad that I had visited them, and I was changed by the experience. I resolved to live life without regrets.
But with time, my memories of that experience faded. When I bought my condo in Dallas in 2010, I told friends in Arkansas, Oklahoma and North Texas that I would come see them; but except for an occasional trip to Texarkana, it didn’t happen. An older friend from Corpus Christi relocated to Hot Springs, where her family was. “I know you will come see me,” she said. And I promised I would. I really meant it. But I procrastinated. And she died.
Guilt is a powerful motivator; so when I had the opportunity to join a group for a tour of Bentonville and Little Rock, I signed up. With my name on the dotted line—and more importantly, the check—I was sufficiently motivated to plan my road trip. Last week I drove 950 miles in eight days as I looped from Dallas through northeast Oklahoma to Bentonville, Little Rock, Benton, Texarkana and Greenville. I saw a girl I taught in Sunday School in 1973, my best friend growing up, my college roommate, the flower girl in my wedding and her mother, my cousin.
Yes, I have a few minor regrets: I hated making the drive on Interstate highways from Bentonville to Little Rock when Highway 7, one of the most beautiful drives in America, was only a short distance away. But the winding road through the Ozarks took two hours longer, and I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have time to detour through Hot Springs, where I spent so much time growing up; and I didn’t have time to see high school classmates living in Texarkana. Maybe next time? I reminded myself those were not my priorities on this trip.
I love what Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant say about the difference between guilt and shame in their new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
Self-compassion often coexists with remorse. It does not mean shirking responsibility for our past. It’s about making sure that we don’t beat ourselves up so badly that we damage our future. It helps us realize that doing a bad thing does not necessarily make us a bad person….
Blaming our actions rather than our character allows us to feel guilt instead of shame…. Although it can be hard to shake, guilt keeps us striving to improve. People become motivated to repair the wrong of their past and make better choices in the future.
Shame has the opposite effect: it makes people feel small and worthless, leading them to attack in anger or shrink away in self-pity.
Legendary Baylor football coach Grant Teaff…
often quoted a reminder he kept on his shaving mirror.
I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something.
And that which I can do, I should do,
And that which I should do, with God’s help I will do.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism…
said something similar.
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
I have wallowed in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians these past eight years, as I struggled to reclaim joy after Lev’s death. I have learned that focusing on myself only makes me unhappier. What if and if only are killers. They fill me with remorse and wishful thinking. I long for an Option A that isn’t available. I linger at the pity party. When I acknowledge my many blessings, when I do what I know I should do, when I forget myself to focus on others, I move from grief to gratitude. Gratitude leads to generosity, and generosity leads to joy.
- You can see my daily photo blogs of my sentimental journey through Oklahoma, Arkansas and North Texas on my Facebook page.
- I have blogged about Sheryl Sandberg before, and I plan to review Option B next Thursday.
- I frequently blog about gratitude, its importance for widows and its relationship to joy on my website. To receive a weekly email with a link to my newest blog, fill out your information in the form to the right of the photo above.