Fueled By Regret
I wish I was perfect. Not so much “perfect” in that I would be the handsomest man alive or the most intelligent or a phenomenal athlete or a virtuoso musician or vocalist, or even the most eloquent speaker and writer. Rather I wish I was a perfect person, personality and character-wise.
I wish I always was attuned to others and sensitive to their needs. I wish I always knew the right thing to say and when to say it, and when to keep silent.
I wish that I could more appropriately express what is on my mind and in my heart, sharing what I think and how I feel in such a way that I don’t permit the emotions of the moment to take me where I really don’t want to go yet still be able to communicate effectively enough that my messages are not misread or misinterpreted by others. I wish I was better at telling people how much I love them, how much I care for them, how much I appreciate their being in my life.
I wish I could better channel my anger; not extinguish or bury it but channel it toward productive ends rather than disruptive or destructive ends. For anger is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a force for good if it inspires us to confront injustices – small or large – and work for constructive change.
I wish I could be truer to my values, doing a better job at “practicing what I preach” so to speak. It is not that I don’t really believe what I say, but it is so easy to get distracted and re-directed, often misdirected, and then there is all that ego which so readily gets in the way. Indeed, I wish I could do a better job at putting my ego aside, spending less time thinking about myself and my wants and my needs and more time thinking about the wants and needs of others.
I wish I was both more consistent and more flexible. I know that seems like a contradiction in terms but it really isn’t. Ideally, consistency should rule. In every situation, we would know where we stand, and others who know us, would be able to anticipate it as well. In our consistency they would come to trust us. But life isn’t ideal. Life can be messy. The rules don’t always provide the best answer. So at times we have to be able to bend and go with the flow. We have to be able to adapt. The trick is in knowing when to be consistent and when to bend. The rabbis of the Midrash tell us that when God was considering creating humanity, there was a heated debate among the angels. They were divided into two camps, those who opposed the creation of humanity and those who supported it. Those who opposed humanity’s creation did so on the grounds of justice, in that they foresaw that often human beings would be unjust. As for those who favored humanity’s creation, they did so on the grounds of mercy, in that they foresaw that many would be the times when human beings would demonstrate great compassion. In the end, God decided to create humanity but to do so in a balance between justice and mercy. That is still my challenge. How can I better balance justice and mercy in the decision making of my life?
Speaking of balance, I wish I could better balance my time. Time management has never been one of my strong suits. Days seem to fly by, yet when I consider how much time I have frittered away, one way or another – time which could have been used far more productively – I have no choice but to realize that I have no one to blame but myself. Yet our time is such a precious commodity, all the more precious for the demands upon it far outweigh the supply. Everyone wants a piece of our time and everyone deserves a piece of it; our family, our job, our friends, our community, our world, and of course, also ourselves. Yes, we need to make time for others but we also need to make time for ourselves. So how do we make the most of the little that we have? How do I make the most of the little I have?
I wish I could be more organized. One look at my desk provides ample testimony to what degree chaos rules my life. I look at those whose desks are clear and neat, where you can actually see the wood of the desktop and I am filled with wonderment. How can they do that? Life can be a hectic and overwhelming enterprise. In one way or another we are all jugglers and it seems that the number of balls we are expected to keep in the air at any given time only increases. Rarely, if ever, do they decrease. Some people prove to be great jugglers. Others not so much so. Most of us fall somewhere in between. Oh, but to be one of life’s great jugglers! What a pleasure that would be!
I have many regrets. So many things I wish I could have done better. So many ways I wish I had taken the opportunity to demonstrate myself to be a better person.
I have regrets. We all have regrets. I suspect that many of us have shared regrets; that some of my regrets are also some of yours and that some of your regrets are also some of mine. And if there is anyone among us who thinks to him or herself, “I have no regrets!” then surely they are deluding themselves. For we all are human beings, and part of our nature is that we are imperfect. We make mistakes. We do not always live up to our potential. There are always ways in which we can do better. We all have, or should have, regrets, and if we don’t that is not because we are so perfect but rather because we are so flawed that we have blinded ourselves to our own shortcomings.
This somber holy day of Yom Kippur offers us a very special gift; the gift of the possibility of a new beginning for our lives. We can come to the synagogue and sit and pray, and maybe even fast, and suffer, and then leave, walking out of this building’s doors the same person who entered through them. Unchanged. Or, we can choose to take the message of Yom Kippur to heart and believe that we can change; and embrace the opportunity to change – change for the better.
But how do we begin that process of change? We begin with regret. Before we can change, we have to confront our lives, as we have lived them so far, and acknowledge that we have been less than we could have been. We must acknowledge that we have regrets. More than acknowledge them, we must number and catalog our regrets; creating our own personal laundry list of them. For until we are ready to come face to face with our regrets, we can never change. We can want to change. We can hope to change, but we can never really change.
I know that it is hard to face the fact that we have been less than we could have been. Believe you me, it was no easy task for me to lay out before you my regrets, and harder still knowing that the list I shared with you is incomplete; that there are those which are buried so deep, I could not even give them expression. But nobody ever promised us that there is an easy path to change. Change is hard, and it can be painful, but if we are willing to face the hardship and endure the pain, it also can be well worth it. Anyone who has ever worked out at a gym or gone on a diet knows from whence I speak. But truth be told, while strengthening our body is a good thing, strengthening our character is a wondrous thing of manifold greater significance. For while all the efforts that we invest in diet and exercise may make us thinner, healthier, and stronger, they do not change the people are; only the bodies we inhabit. Yet traveling the path laid out to us by Yom Kippur – the path that begins with regret and moves toward repentance, atonement, and hopeful forgiveness – can make of us better people. When you think about it, if you had to make a choice, which would you prefer? To be known as a thin person or a good person? A strong person or a decent person? A physically fit person or a person worthy of respect? Of course we don’t have to choose between them. We can, if we so choose, be both thin and good, strong and decent, physically fit and worthy of respect. But even if we possessed both, of which would we be prouder?
So let us seriously take this Yom Kippur opportunity to consider those aspects of our lives which we sincerely regret. Let our sense of regret fuel our energy for change. Let us commit ourselves to the work of making ourselves, not perfect, but better in the coming year. Let us commit ourselves to transforming today’s regrets into our building blocks with which we will build of ourselves better people as we march into our future.
 BERESHIT RABBA 8.
This entry was posted on September 16, 2013 at 9:25 am and is filed under Anger as a good thing, Balancing Justice and Mercy, Becoming a better person, Being Consistent, Being Flexible, Being more organized, Being sensitive to others, Being true to our values, Change is hard, Channeling our anger, Confronting our Flaws and Shortcomings, Ego, Expressing what is on our minds, Life is messy, Making time for others, Making time for ourselves, People are Imperfect, Practicing what we preach, Putting the needs of others before our own, Regret, Repenting Sins, Saying the right thing, Sharing our feelings, Telling others of our love for them, Time as a precious commodity, Time Management, Uncategorized, Values, Yom Kippur. You can subscribe via RSS 2.0 feed to this post's comments.
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