Ow! Ow! Ow! I can't believe how much it hurts, really hurts. I have felt physical pain before in my life but it's nothing compared to this. I was warned about this before, I listened carefully to the warning, but it wasn't meant to and couldn't help me avoid this moment. This painful moment.
I loved my Grandmother Hingsburger dearly. She was a deeply kind woman. We had a lovely bond, a unique and special one. She managed to make me feel wildly important, something she managed with many. I was not jealous of the others who loved her, I was pleased simply to be in their company. We had talks, she and I, about many things. Once when she was looking particularly sad, I simply sat with her. After a few minutes she turned to me and said, "Some of the greatest pain you will ever feel will come from regrets, be careful the choices you make, the paths you choose, because one day you will feel the loss of the choice not made. It will hurt more than you can imagine." I held on to her and hoped and prayed that the choices that she made that lead to the moment I sat with her, were not amongst those that caused her pain.
Life means choices of course. We make millions a day. I make them for myself, I am paid to make some for others. I have felt, I thought, regret. I have looked back at clinical decisions made for others out of best intentions and have found that I was wrong. I felt regret, I thought. But now I know that what I felt was not regret, it was remorse, perhaps, or a thoughtful rethinking, but it wasn't regret.
Three years in a wheelchair have caused a significant change in my life. I look back over that time and then look over the hill into the time before 53 years of walking, and I feel many things. But I don't feel regret. I feel an odd thankfullness. I am here because of the diligence of doctors, the accessibility of the health care system, the purposeful love of a partner that knew how to nurse when nursing was needed. Many feelings, true, but not regret.
Regret walked up to me and slapped my hard a few days ago. I openned an innocent looking email. A benign email bringing me up to date on someone else's life. And WHAM! I gasped. The pain struck so hard, so fast, that it felt physical. Suddenly I saw the road not taken, the choice not made, I felt bitterness at the back of my throat, I felt blame towards others flare up, I felt anger at myself, I felt jealous at the journey of another. I was consumed. Consumed. I could hardly think. I understood why Grandma sat there so quietly, I now know that my sitting with her without question was the right thing to do.
Later, a little more sane, in the car on the way down to New Jersey, I told Joe about the email about the intense regret. He listened carefully. When I was done he said, "You still can, you know, if you really want, you still can, we'd have to reshape our lives, but you still can." I wasn't sure that I could, though. I didn't know if I believed in myself to the degree he believed in me. I thought it might just be an acheivement out of my reach. Even if there was time, I don't think there is ability.
"You think so," I asked.
"Yes," he said with certainty.
What dangers, I wonder are there in returning to a decision made and unmaking it. What dangers, I wonder are there in simply letting the past rest.
I wonder at what point we simply come to peace with our lives. I wonder if we ever do.