Regrets

different flavours ice creams on the waffle cone

If I had my life to live over…
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains
and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans…
If I had to do it again, I would
travel lighter than I have…
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later into the fall (autumn).
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies…

Just sometimes, don’t you come across a poem or a poster that stops you in your tracks? That happened to me, lately, in the most unlikely setting (an Anglian Water team event in Ipswich, actually, where I happened to be a guest speaker).

Once I’d got past the cheese-y typography of this A4 sheet in their wellbeing zone, it really got me thinking about my life. (Whew. Deep stuff.) And it touched so many nerves, with me. First off, silliness. I definitely haven’t been silly enough. I’ve worried about what people would think if I skipped down the street (which I do sometimes think of doing), and I really wish I hadn’t bowed to crowd-sourced opinion lately about a grey felt hat with wolf ears, which got shouted down by my friends. (I might check out Etsy to see if it’s still available, actually.) I think the reason most of us like hanging out with kids is that we get to be silly without people staring – but it probably would make the world a happier place if we all relaxed (see Line Three) and let loose.

The barefoot thing definitely resonates. It’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve discovered the joys of going barefoot, with its wonderful earthing and grounding power. I’ll never get back all those years I spent walking beside my barefoot husband (as ever, the pioneer), my feet encased in sandals or trainers when I could’ve enjoyed toe liberation and the pleasure of foot dew-baths. Not long ago, we walked seven miles over Beachy Head barefoot. We were definitely the only tourists walking barefoot around the walls of Dubrovnik, recently, beautifully smooth, warm stone underfoot. Better late than never, but I do definitely regret the ‘shoe years’. (There’s a lot on that list that relates to not worrying about what other people think of us, actually. One of the reasons I love my husband is that he really doesn’t give a damn what other people think – and I need to learn from him, there.)

I only properly climbed a mountain a few years ago – and had never realised how triumphant it feels at the top (well, it was a foothill of the Himalayas, but it was still a mountain-top), having overcome a) my fear of heights and b) the overwhelming urge to turn round and go back down because it was just so, so hard, and scary, and my thighs were screaming so loudly in protest I was pretty sure they could hear them in Pakistan. Interestingly, my reward – apart from the view – was that something happened exponentially to my fitness on that one climb with the result that I find it so much easier to climb hills and even walk up escalators out of choice, now. So: another thing on that list which I totally agree with. More mountains.

Part of that poster’s message is about being more daring. Not just doing the same-old-same-old, but taking some risks. Trying different things. Travelling to places new. I was a bit of a scaredy-cat, as a young woman. Not so much, now – and life’s so much richer, as a result. I’ve a way to go before I voluntarily abseil down a cliff, but I can see that possibly, just possibly, I could rise to that challenge – and I can also envision the elation afterwards.

But most importantly, it’s about not having regrets. I often see people quoted, late in life, saying: ‘It’s not the things I did that I regret. It’s the things that I didn’t do.’ On a travel level, if I don’t get to Rajasthan, I’m really going to regret that. (Note to self: start researching that trip, and stop worrying about dying in a collision with a sacred cow on a road between Udaipur and Jodhpur.)

I’ve got a friend who’s basically been on a diet for all the years I’ve known her. For all that time, her weight has see-sawed – and she’s never knowingly enjoyed a guilt-free meal, at least not one I’ve shared with her. And I think she’s really beginning to regret it, since she’s fundamentally the same size as when we first met, but hasn’t ever allowed herself truly to enjoy food.

Food! Sustenance! Potentially the source of so much joy…! And I certainly don’t want to be someone who feels bad about having a generous slice of cake or a celebratory glass of champagne, and allowing myself small pleasures. (On which note: the ‘I would eat more ice cream’ line is pretty redundant, in my case. My ice cream quotient’s right up there, frankly, and I don’t regret a single lick.)

Above all, it’s about not having regrets about spending time with the people who matter to us, too. Small (daisy chain-loving) children, who become teenagers before you know it, and then drift away to university or get married and/or have babies, so that the only time you really can be sure of seeing them is when they come home for Christmas or to retrieve possessions from what was once your garage but is now a free storage unit, because at least it means you’ll see them when they do.

Friends, far and near. One of my big regrets is that recently, a team of my friends got together to cook for another mutual friend who was very sick, spending an hour over lunch with her in turn while feeding her delicious food. I was too busy to join the rota (I really was, but I should have juggled something). Well, the friend died. We’ll never get that time together, and that’s a regret which will always be a nagging, dull ache. (Another note to self: book that trip to Hay-on-Wye to catch-up with a really good, really old mate who I’ve been promising to visit for a decade, now. And haven’t got round to it.)

The bottom line is that in a world of social media and obsession with ‘likes’ and ghastly news on the TV and doom and gloom in newspapers, when everyone’s walking down the road looking at their phones and there are so very many small distractions to gobble up our days, I think we need to remind ourselves constantly what really and truly matters in life. For me, those few lines really made me check in with myself – and I’ve printed it out for my office wall, to act as a daily nudge in the direction of what really matters. Merry-go-rounds, daisies and all.

I reckon we probably all need to think about the things we’d put on a list like that of our own. I wonder: what would yours say…? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it, starting right now…?

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