The Universal Notebook: Regrets only
A peculiar anticipation has overtaken me lately, a feeling that I am now of an age (64) at which I am running out of time to do all the things that there was once a lifetime to do.
But that’s not really the peculiar part. The peculiar part is that I do not regret things I have not done; I worry that I will regret them if I do them now.
I started thinking about the subject of regret earlier this summer when I drove down to New York City to pick up daughter Tess, who had been doing a summer internship there. Walking around the Upper East Side among all the smart, pasty-faced people, I started wondering what it might have been like to move to Manhattan as a young man, to live in the Big Apple and to pursue a career in the Big Time.
Every once in a while a commenter ticked off at one of my columns will try to insult me by pointing out what a failure I am, that I only write a little column in a free circulation weekly. But I am beyond insult. And honestly, I don’t regret not tackling New York at all. People struggle their whole lives in New York to find enough time and money to spend a little time in Maine, and I feel blessed to have spent just about all of mine here.
The only real regrets I have are about the way I treated a handful of people when I was a callow and callous young man. When you come right down to it, young men are dogs.
In terms of things yet to be accomplished, I don’t really have a bucket list. I have no interest in jumping out of airplanes, climbing Mt. Everest or swimming with sharks. The only thing I feel any urgency to complete is a book I have been working on fitfully since 1976. The notes and manuscripts sit in boxes and notebooks above my desk. I take it out every few months when I am between assignments, but as soon as I get busy I drop it. Now the book looks like it’s going to be a project for my old age, assuming that is I am still competent to write when I finally get around to it.
All of which gets me back to that peculiar and unexpected concern about not engendering any more regrets. When Carolyn and I get talking about what comes next, planning for retirement, thinking about our options, I find myself daydreaming about living in a little English village or maybe a seaside cottage (more likely a condo) in the Caribbean, spending part of the year up at the lake and the rest of the year somewhere warm.
But what if I discovered that I loved living in England? Carolyn and I were married there and spent a couple of months there in 1980. I’ve always wanted to go back, but I hate to travel, I hate to fly and now I’d hate to find out that I should have been living abroad all along. I don’t want to feel as though I’ve wasted decades of my life when I could have been enjoying different pursuits, so I am unlikely at this point in my life to take up traveling, farming, sailing, painting, surfing, the piano or the harmonica.
I’m also not likely to get a tattoo, start jogging or weight lifting, go back to college or buy a sports car. I’m too old for all that. I guess I’ll just stay right here where I belong, and keep writing. That book I have been working on off and on for 37 years is about an old man I knew when I was a young man. The first line is “No man grows so old that he cannot imagine living just one more year.”
Now I’m the old man.