Okay, you know the 7 Deadly Sins. Lust, sloth, greed, etc. (you can rent Se7en if you need a refresher). Well I’ve always wondered why there isn’t an 8th. You have to understand, though, I don’t mean “sin” in the sense of the pet-peeves of a petulant God, fuming from the heavens.
I mean in the sense of something that is perhaps healthy or affirming of the great things in life in its origins – even celebratory of God, if you want to keep it theological – but consumes one to the point of self-destructiveness. Something that takes control of you.
For me, the 8th deadly sin is this: Regret.
You know how sometimes there will be interviews with big, successful people? And inevitably, they ask this question: “Do you have any regrets?” And the respondent, inevitably, says the same thing:
And I always wonder, are they serious? Are they delusional? Are they sociopaths? Who doesn’t have regrets? You certainly don’t get to be a captain of industry without doing some things that any rational person would regret. And it seems like a positive thing to look at your life and see the things you wish you’d done differently. That’s called wisdom. To paraphrase the great Muhammad Ali, if you think the same things at 50 that you do at 30, haven’t you wasted 20 years?
But then there’s me. I am the opposite of these “I don’t believe in regret” people. I can get consumed with regret. Paralyzed with regret. I have, quite literally, lay awake at night micro-managing how I’d have done things differently if I had the chance.
It’s pathetic. And pointless. And – here’s the “sin” part – it not only takes away from time that could be spent doing things, it focuses my mind on being utterly ungrateful for the things in my life. Because that is, of course, the implication. That everything would be better “if only”, and that what “is” isn’t good enough.
In the depths of regret-binges, it only seems rational. I mean, I’m human – I think I’m a pretty decent person, but my life (oh, man, especially my youth) is riddled with terrible decisions and stupid mistakes and totally botched relationships.
But maybe it’s because writing plays such a role in my life – it can seem genuinely malicious that life is a first draft.
And then I waste time regretting things, instead of doing them. Which I then of course regret. Yes, I regret regretting things. And then regret that. And so on, contuining in to some crazed reductio ad absurdum until there’s only one logical outcome.
I remember once I saw this 3-legged dog. The owner was saying that after the leg was removed there was this, of course, short period when the dog went to walk and it didn’t work out.
But then very, very soon, the dog adjusts, and moves forward. Like this is how it’s always been.
In my efforts to re-route my thinking, I’ll sometimes – as regret starts its cycle – murmur to myself, “3-legged dog. 3-legged dog” as a sort of short-hand for “You have so much. You have what you have to move forward with.” And sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And then I get mad at myself for not being able to embrace the future. And then I regret that regret…
And, well, you know where that ends up…
p.s. – Yes, I know there are a couple of typos in the pictures. You have no idea how much I regret that…