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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Books, Regret and The Future

There's a pile of fifteen books next to my bed.  I'm not at all sure why I store them there.  Except for the two which I read before I go to sleep most nights the others just gather dust. A couple of times a year they get moved around, cleaned, sorted, prioritized and then re-stacked, but never read.  The "stack" is bothering me.

Included in the stack are books on meditation, jazz, mythology, gerontology, novels, science, songwriting, travel and spirituality.  Some started, most still sitting with their receipts sticking out.  All bought with the expectation of great things and personal transformation.   There they are, unread, gathering dust.   For some strange reason I am feeling regretful that these books have been abandoned and unread.  I even feel a little guilty that I have apparently abandoned my own enthusiasms that initially inspired me to buy them.  

Oh, boy, now I'm starting to brood over this.  What about all the other things I have not done or completed in life?  And what about all the other accumulated mistakes and failures?  Hmmm, such a deep topic!  I should have done better in school; I should have waited to get married; I should have taken that job in Washington D.C.; I should have become a Priest like my Grandmother expected. It goes on...and on!  Whew, I'm now exhausted... and depressed!

The years have apparently slipped by without my realizing it.  Now it is too late to make the changes that these regrets demand of me. My life is almost over and I don't have the answer.  I am comparing my life to old acquaintances and new ones. Now I really feel bad! The thoughts of what could have been eats at my heart pretending to be "reflection" or life review.  But it feels more like failure.  What have I made of my precious life?

Regret is such a temptation, isn't it?  Regret entices us to lust after what never was while we lose our sense and connection to the present.  This is such a misuse of the aging process.  One of the gifts of aging is to become comfortable with who we are rather than mourn what we are not.  Regret also fogs our ability to see the present and the future as full of possibility and grace.

This is not to say that we should not look back.  We must ask ourselves why we are where we are.  It is also important  that we gently and gracefully think about past choices and motives as these inform us who we really are now.  It is from this vantage point that intentional aging begins.  It is the judgment about our past that leads to regret.  When we look at our lives as a loving non-judgmental observer we receive both the wisdom about our past and enthusiasm for our future.

Now maybe I can recycle the old stack and begin a new one.



Sophie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sophie said...

Hello Mr. David!
Thank you for another great post! What do you mean by recycling your books? If you mean you don't want them :) or giving it out, I don't mind taking them! I love reading and currently a Gerontology student in CA. Well, let me know! :)

Ken said...

Yet another insightful post and pretty good example of contemplative thinking I would think. Personally I like the adage to reflect yes, regret, no.

Anonymous said...

This is a message for David and readers. I much enjoyed the tone of David's post and my question relates to this. I'd like buy a book for my grandfather who is suffering bone cancer and also punishing himself with regrets and could of should have's. It,s a time of reflection and i wish him peace.

Can any one recommends a book possibly under the guise of fiction that is not to fluffy for the old guy that deals with these topics?

Any suggestions most welcome.

Cheers, -t.

David Rozell said...

T: the only novel I can think of that comes close is Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet In Heaven"

David Rozell said...

Sophie, excuse my tardiness. If you want the books I will send them to you if you pay the shipping. It would be great if they got used.

Email me direct at

Paul Severance said...

Thanks, David, for speaking from the heart with such wisdom. I'd like to say it was only the books by my bedside that I have this issue with. I recently had to force myself to do a book cleaning to make my space more livable. So I took four boxes of books to donate to the library.

So many of those books were purchased in hopes of finally becoming good enough.

As I spend more time in quiet gratitude, I can sometimes say, "I am good enough - and then look forward to continuing to grow with a sense of anticipation and curiosity rather than desperation.