One of my all-time favorite teachers, James May, asked my Hunanities class what we regretted? A classroom of teenagers obediently bent heads and wrote our answers on three by five cards. As I recall, we didn’t put our names on them. Like most teachers who are more attentive than I am, Mr. May recognized our handwriting, so that when he was reading our responses to regret aloud and came to mine, he glanced right at me, eyebrow raised. I’d said, Nothing. I believed I was, at 15, too young to have made any errors too big to overcome.
Oh, Mr. May, you were right to raise an eyebrow at my youthful, blithe response. I regret so much now.
I regret not taking the third year of Latin and another year of Math in high school. I regret that when people told me in college I would never be admitted to the School of Architecture, I accepted it. I regret not taking Botany until my senior year because I loved it so much! I regret that I didn’t insist Gary continue his Masters degree when his father was diagnosed with cancer and he quit graduate school to look after his family.
Worse. I regret that when we were little girls I turned a cold shoulder to my friend Gwen and refused to talk to her until she cried. What a beastly child I was to her. Gwen, wherever you are: I am sorry. There are so many other mistakes, wounds I inflicted…
More recently, I regret foolish emails and posts on line, losing my temper with technology and Standards, and sometimes with students. I regret every time I hurt someone’s feelings. I regret the direction that education is going in American, and I have little control of that outside my classroom. I have not slept well this school year for what is happening. Mark Mizell tells me I said in a meeting last week, that I was fine with Standards so long as they didn’t interfere with what I know I should be doing in my classroom. I hope I said that. I agree with me.
Regret and gratitude.
Once I stopped my car, turned and went back to find a bird that had flown into my windshield. It died in my hand. Another time I struck a seagull and nothing I could have done would have saved it. I am amazed that I never accepted blame, as a friend of mine did, for Eve’s bringing sin into the world. I am not responsible for Eve, and though I have made mistakes of my own, I have brought no evil into the world.
I am grateful for the family and friends who speak to me and even those who do not. I am grateful for life and the sea shushing outside my window, the hummer in the front yard, the gull soaring overhead, the eagles and robins, the elk and coyote that pass before I awake, the raccoons and chipmunks and small rodents, the visitors who walk the shore on weekends and ask me where I am from. I am from here.
I have brought sons into the world, whom I love so powerfully that I am brought to my knees in gratitude and fear. My most painful regrets are all about the mistakes I made in raising my sons. To list them… Oh, I could not do it! Too many, too hard. They ache in my soul, turn the future to despair, spin my heart into a wrung rag from which drips blood, where only kindness should flow. I love them. Do you know? And when the darkness comes into my soul and asks me, how much is it worth? I can say, all of it. Every error, every terrible mistake, my beautiful boys and their women, the love of my husband, the students I’ve tormented and taught. I regret—oh yes I do!—but I do not take back a thing.