Yesterday the Guardian on Facebook presented me with an interesting article called “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” which looked at the conversations had between a palliative care nurse and her patients. There were a few things that struck me and a challenge the article gave me which I felt might be useful to anyone that reads this.
First was the pointed statement that none of the regrets (at least not those talked about) mentioned sex (or bungee jumping but that one is hardly surprising). In a world so driven by the lust of a body, of the pleasure gained from a small amount of time spent naked, where advertisements constantly quote “sex sells” even when it comes to primary school kids clothing, I was annoyingly surprised when it came to this article. I say “annoyingly surprised” because I don’t think the world should be so obsessed with one particular act, nor do I agree it should control people or sway them from rational, reasonable opinions. But it did surprise me because of the emphasis put on sex in our world. Will these regrets help highlight the importance of other parts of one’s life, and brush off the less important ones? It’s unlikely but I can hope.
I am happily married but even when I was asked by a worried friend if I could do without sex (just incase they never got any) I answered that I could. I did go on to say that it was the person that made sex special, not the act, which is why I’ve never understood the need for one-night-stands or drunken liaisons. Sex as it is treated in the western world causes more damage than it’s worth most of the time, and since the “sexual freedom” revolution it has cost the NHS billions of pounds. This is not a rant of judgement and condemnation but I do worry that in talking about sexual freedom schools, government and people in general forgot that really there isn’t freedom from the risks of sex. Risks of sex include STDs, unwanted pregnancy, HIV, as well as emotional trauma (this particularly tends to be forgotten as the rose-tinted view of the pleasurable side takes over). In women particularly a break-up is harder if the couple have had sex due to the hormones given off during a woman’s orgasm. If that woman is abandoned shortly after intercourse, emotionally it can affect relationships in the future severely, and I don’t think we need anymore distrust of each other. Young girls are growing up with the attitude that to be noticed sex in important, that it’s a normal part of a teenagers life, and are not being told of half of the practical and emotional issues that sex brings into a relationship.
I will stop there and be glad that the older generations seems to have some sense about what is really important in their lives.
The second point I noticed is that despite these regrets surfacing again and again, we as humans don’t seem to be learning from our elders. We are making the same mistakes over and over again and it actually seems like we are arrogantly aiming to do differently than what is suggested to us. It seems we are acting like teenagers, bolding claiming that we will be better than our parents, not make the same mistakes, can look after ourselves, etc, etc; it’s a shame then that actually our society seems to be working harder, faster and longer wanting things to be done and given to us instantly. We no longer appreciate the slow craftsmanship of a product, and instead mass-produced technology is demanded on time at the threat of violence. I would suggest we do need to start respecting our old people more so we can learn and actually improve, not constantly fall down the same traps that they regret stepping into themselves.
Finally, the challenge I felt was to look at the top five regrets and ask myself, if tomorrow was the day I died, would I have those same regrets. Can I learn now and change things? So here is the list and my views upon my life, and what I could improve.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This is a challenge I am constantly working on. There have been majorly low points in my life which have been mostly due to not having this courage. I often regret not standing up for what I believed in against a bully, not taking charge of a situation because of my fear of being wrong, not doing exactly what I knew was right but was too embarrassed to act out. These mistakes in my life are regrets but they are also things that I hold up to myself every time a new situation arises. In having these regrets I can no longer regret them because they become tools for my betterment.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Having only recently stopped being a student I think sometimes I have the opposite regret. On the other hand, there have been moments I am glad for the level I work at because it has allowed me to be there for a friend, be available in an emergency, to throw myself into an awesome experience because ultimately it will provide me with an equal amount of life experience as that book I’m meant to read for class. Sometimes it is a hard decision to prioritize your life but I have found it’s an ongoing process and actually there is always more I could have done, it doesn’t mean it was worth it or that I should have. Anyway, I got a 2:1 degree – I can hardly complain!
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I think for the most part I do express my feelings. In fact one of the hardest arguments I had recently was where I had to be honest with my best friend. After our argument turned discussion I believe both of us felt better for it and I tried to turn it into a learning experience. How could we be better to one another? What did we learn about each other that we can work with to love each other more. I use to be much quieter than I am now; I would have opinions that I felt weren’t useful to anyone; I would hold beliefs and allow people to bully me without giving myself a voice. This changed with God and with people who cared about me, not about what I could do for them. I would recommend honesty to anyone, but I would insist that all honesty comes with love.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I could be much better at this. There are people I care for and miss deeply that I can see slipping through the net. There was a time I spent a good time writing postcards and letters, just to wave and smile at them from afar and show I still existed and still cared. I do hope I can get back this habit as my life is changing and that doesn’t mean I want missing them completely to be part of the change. I could definitely put more effort in. Of course, it’s a two-way street, so for those slipping from my life: I love you, please come back to me and I’ll try to meet you half way!
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
This makes a lot of sense to me as I realised somewhere within a bout of depression that I could choose happiness. Happiness needs to separated from joy here quite precisely. I find joy in life everywhere, I am joyful in God and my beliefs, I have joy in friends and family. Happiness was the extra choice I could make where I noticed this joy and allowed myself to let go of the things that could pull me down. Happiness is never promised to us; the American constitution promises the right to the pursuit of happiness, but not the result of it. They couldn’t promise the result because happiness is subjective, it’s wavering, it’s a bonus in life which you can find in any number of places. When I allowed myself to be happy, and let myself off the hook for other people’s happiness, it was freeing. Not one person can make me happy, but they can treat me well and allow me to find happiness. It is not something I can give you, or guide you to, but happiness I believe is strongly tied to a sense of yourself, and an expression of that within a good and graceful world.
I challenge all of you to think of your own regrets, and more importantly what you can learn from them. I also challenge you to respect and truly listen to any elder around you. You don’t have to agree but sometimes their words are worth gold, and you may well regret truly hearing them.