I have a regret. I had always inaccurately believed I could live such a good life that I would never have anything to regret. After all, I lived and worked for the least and poor of the inner city. How could I possibly do more? I firmly believed I could look back at my life when I’m old and more grey, pat myself on the back, and say, “Well done, girly!” I didn’t factor in the black heart of man, which surprisingly existed inside of me. Arrogance, impatience, and revenge dwelled, still dwells, right next to kindness, compassion, and wisdom in this mixed soul of mine. When someone, anyone, didn’t behave properly (the precise way I wanted them to behave) I instantly forgot my own faults. I played the old haunting tape in my brain “I would never do that” and worse, “That would never happen to me because…” I am sad and sorry for all the victims I blamed through the years.
When I eventually awakened from the terrible slumber of perfectionism, I realized I could never live as ideally as I thought, I found a stack of my own regrets piled to the moon and back. Remember the scene in Schindler’s List when everyone thanks Schindler and he cries out, “I should have done MORE.”? The load of that stack could have crushed me if I’d have allowed it. Thankfully I’ve learned a way to release the burden- the same grace I offer my dearest beloved friends when they make a mistake, I must offer myself.
Back to my regret. Forlornly, I know there is no way to make this one right.
I had a friend named Danny. As a college student, he worked for me at an inner city day camp, and we became buddies. I hung out with him, his wife, and son in their home in the projects. He taught me volumes about self determination and self discipline amid total chaos and poverty. Because he was real with me, I saw his mess. When he was tough on his son, I played my cynical brain tape, “I’ll never do that when I have children.“ When he had a hard time fundraising at times, I secretly thought he might be slacking. And mostly because I was so good at forgetting my own faults, his mess looked really untidy. Years into our friendship, Danny decided to run for city council when the mayor at that time miffed him. This was my opportunity to personally know a candidate and his views. I knew Danny’s politics intricately, and they did not match mine EXACTLY, tit for tat, and I knew his mess. I believed especially if one is going to take public office, one had to be perfect. I hate this about myself, but I didn’t get involved in his campaigns. Danny certainly didn’t need me (he won his seat twice), but I missed an incredible opportunity because of my dark and judging heart. Never mind his excellence as he and I worked together for years advocating, empowering and educating. I couldn’t get past perfectionism. My loss. If I could turn back time, knowing what I know now- that humans, including myself, come in a bundle of beautiful gifts and tragic flaws- I’d have jumped in and promoted my dear friend best contributions to the city.
So why not go to him and confess what is on my heart now? Ask his forgiveness and get involved the next political go round? Danny lost a noble battle with cancer, and he doesn’t live just down the street from me anymore in a bungalow tastefully painted in African colors. While I got to say goodbye at the amazing celebration of his life in the form of a funeral, I will not get to share my regret looking into his warm brown eyes. So, I’ll offer myself the forgiveness and grace, and more importantly, learn.
So, let’s say I have another friend, a politician who is inspirational and talented beyond measure. He advocates for those who cannot do so for themselves. He wakes up everyday and thinks about making his city a better place. And he doesn’t say things or think about things the same way as I do. I will lay aside my perfect agenda, and stand for him. We’ll talk through our differences privately while I support his good work publicly. And I’ll strongly urge others to do the same.
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