Thoughts on Regrets

I’ve been thinking about Dr. Moffic’s article on regret, posted on February 16, 2023 in Psychiatric Times.

I’ve dwelt on it long enough that I feel compelled to inject humor into the subject. It’s one of my many defenses.

There’s a quote from Men in Black 3 involving a short telephone conversation between Agent K and Agent J:

Agent K: Do you know the most destructive force in the universe?

Agent J: Sugar?

Agent K: Regret.

You could probably sense that joke coming. Whenever there is talk of regrets, I always recall maybe one or two remarkable episodes which led to lifelong regret. Because regret is pretty corrosive, as noted by Agent K, I need something to counter it.

My trouble is that I have many regrets. Am I so different in that regard?

Sometime in mid-career, a very important leader told me, frankly and calmly, “You’ll never be a scientist.”

Well, by then it was far too late for me to change life course. It was true; I’ve always been the rodeo clown, never the matador.

On the other hand, I know one thing I’ve never regretted and that’s my retirement. At least I think I haven’t regretted it. I have this recurring dream. It’s not every night, but often enough to make me wonder what I should do about it.

In the dream, I’m late for an exam or class and I fear I’m going to flunk. I look for the building where the exam is going to be held. I can never find it. Hallways appear and look vaguely familiar, but as I wander about looking for the bookstore or classroom or exam room, I feel like I’m in a maze, climbing stairs, almost like an Escher drawing.

That reminds me. Incidentally, several years ago, one of the medical students rotating on the psychiatry consult service drew a picture entitled “The Practical Psychosomaticist” which contained images of stairs running in different directions similar to an Escher drawing (see the featured image). It was really just her expression of how I got around the hospital. I avoided elevators and always took the stairs.

Anyway, I’m carrying several notebooks and loose papers keep falling out. I get lost in this jumble of halls and stairways, never finding my destination.

The dream is probably just me telling myself I’m failing at something in my waking life. It’s not like I need a dream to notify me.

This is a long way of saying I have many regrets, and that I may not know exactly how many. Some of them are less important than others. Take the “I’ll never be a scientist” theme. I’m not terribly broken up about it.

After all, rodeo clowns do pretty important things.

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