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Sweet Goodbye to Regret

Lake Luzern, Switzerland


If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the seas
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

- Billy Collins

My husband and I were sitting in the back yard yesterday evening, a glass of good Spanish wine in hand, chatting as the sun set. I had been thinking of late about regrets. The big ones. The thoughts that anchor the good night's sleep on the shore of insomnia. "If I were to pick one decade that bookended all my worst decisions," I said, "hands down my twenties."

In the decade of my twenties I made several of the largest and most important decisions of my life shaping who I would become and how I would live my life. Key decisions in that parenthesis of a decade were absolutely right for me: pursuing an education, policy work with the U.S. Senate and the U.S. State Department, and the experience gained and mentoring provided through the Presidential Management Fellowship.

Nearly everything else was a trip up the stairs.

On my own from the age of 18, I made the decisions and choices needed to be made as a young adult. Regrettably - perfect use of the word: "unfortunately, in a regretful manner, with regret" - not all of those decisions were informed, wise, or served me well. Yes, we've all been emotionally fragile at times we should somehow have managed to rein it in. Did not seek key support at times we needed to reach out, personally or professionally. Tried on relationships utterly wrong or went too deep into them. I chose the wrong type of university (twice); tried to finesse workplace politics without a developed skill set; tip-toed through life with my accomplishments and self-esteem bubble-wrapped in what Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In calls "the fear of being found out" - that is, identified as inauthentic, an impostor. I did not own my strengths.

As the hubby and I talked, enjoying the evening shift in hues from fiery orange to soft plum, I realized that although my twenties were the one decade in my life I would accept a do-over (if offered by that cosmic referee), this choice would be different for others. Do most of us have a period in life we recognize as the catch-all of our regrets? This makes for a very interesting conversation. Somewhere in the evening I had my small personal ah-ha moment: While the past cannot be undone, it can be set free. Forgiveness, forgiving me, is the answer to my regret. The way through the ache is to let go: forgive. You, them, then, when. Billy Collins' poem "Dancing Toward Bethlehem," offers us the sweet goodbye - humming the notes of what brings us joy free of "worry about what was never said."

Let us dance. My palm in the small of your back. Our hearts wise and accepting.
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