One of the consequences of our inevitable longing (see yesterday’s post) is how readily it turns into regret.
Regret that things didn’t work out the way you hoped they would. Regret at the situation you find yourself in now. Regret at your part in all of this. “If only,” you might say “if only I’d done things differently.”
And while regret, as all moods do, has its own purpose and logic in drawing our attention to what’s missing and what could have been, it does little to orient us towards future possibilities. Regret is a mood that keeps us in the past, always looking back towards what we understand to be the root of our suffering.
I saw the first Lord of the Rings film again this week, and was struck by the straightforward but powerful wisdom in a short exchange between the hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf, at a moment of great difficulty that’s unfolding from Frodo’s earlier choices:
“I wish the ring had never come to me.” says Frodo. “I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times,” replies Gandalf, “but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
And so for all of us, whether we look back on the past year in satisfaction or in sadness and longing.
There is no changing what is, but there is always the possibility of yet deciding who we will be, and what we’ll do next in response to the life in the middle of which we find ourselves again and again.