19 June, 2013

Wishes And Horses

We all read them. And all the time. You know those clever signs or posters with their pithy and sometimes deep advice about or commentary on life. We love them because we suspect that Socrates was right - the unexamined life isn't worth living. So we examine - sometimes looking for the humor, sometimes for the seriousness that is offered offered by these oversimplifications.

The number of these phrases is rapidly approaching infinity, and almost all of them have popped up on Facebook in some form or another and usually with an image that was oh so carefully selected to amplify the importance. I could do with fewer of them though and have learned to skip or delete rapidly. I have to say, however, that most of them, at some level, possess a modicum of truth.

The creation of bucket lists also continues to be popular with bloggers, and the encouragement to do those things on one's list is strong - leading to its own related advice. Better to feel the regret of something you did than to experience the regret of not having done something. There's a lot of advice in there.

Yesterday I learned of a book by Bronnie Ware in which she describes the years she spent tending to the needs of those who were dying. She went on to write about the most common regrets expressed to her by the people she had cared for. What were they? Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Bronnie Ware:

          1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself,
                    not the life others expected of me.
          2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
          3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
          4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
          5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The first one was by far the most common, and the second, not surprisingly, was often expressed by men.

What struck me was that each was a statement of regret for something left undone or never done. She rarely heard people express regret over something they actually had done. So, dictum supported? Who knows, but it seems so to me.

It begins early. We are encouraged in nursery rhymes: "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." So actually DO something. Lee Ann Womack sings about it: "And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance." And Zachary Scott said: "As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do."

I've learned the lesson, but it took 60 years. I hope you're a better student.