The Road We Never Traveled
With the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man providing the soundtrack, the dream begins with me herding the family into a Winnebago with strollers, bikes, boogie boards, kayaks precariously bungeed to the roof. We are soon riding over a hill on a clear blue morning, laughing together, my elbow out the window….
You should know that I have nourished this fantasy for more than three decades. But with seven kids spanning a generation-wide 19 years, the logistics of my reverie have proven to be as complicated and unrealistic as my adolescent hallucinations about playing shortstop for the Dodgers. And now that the kids are grown–with 13 kids of their own—there’s not a Winnebago big enough to accommodate us.
So I am not anywhere near the road to the cute town of Tongue-in-Cheek when I say that whenever I overhear someone talking about going cross-country with the family my heart rises like the Rockies … and then plummets like the Grand Canyon as I reflect on the cold reality that our odyssey never happened.
I have tried very hard—shoulder to the wheel hard–to avoid regret of any kind in a life filled with undeserved grace, but I have to admit that this interstate dream continues to tailgate me, sometimes passing me on the highway with a wink and a snooty little wave.
Even now I am sorely tempted to play the embittered but worldly-wise writer and offer sage advice about following one’s dreams. But after all those summer vacations on the same North Carolina beach—not behind the wheel of a Winnebago— I’m not going down that road. I have learned that while Just Do It makes good ad copy and the Serenity Prayer probably offers a fine antidote for sour grapes, both are dead ends on the road from regret.
I arrived at that rueful truth a few summers ago standing on the deck of a small cottage on Hatteras Island, NC, and saw a thick dark stalactite of a water spout reaching down from the troubled heavens, a mushroom cloud of roiled ocean below. There was no time to run, and with the cottage eight feet above the sand on stilts, no basement in which to hide. The waterborne tornado was going to blow us to kingdom come—or it wasn’t.
And in that elemental, humbling moment, full of regrets much more profound than a missed cross country romp, I made a simple promise that, if I survived, I would do better than I had.
I then grew as calm as if I was in the eye of a hurricane, oddly comforted in the counter-intuitive knowledge that, if little else, regret carries its own satisfactions. It chastens me; it offers me the opportunity to be a better person. And when the waterspout passed without incident, I dove into the glistening ocean towing regrets as large as a Winnebago behind me, the bumper sticker reading SEIZE THE REGRET.
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