I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
What do people think about most in life: the things they did or the things they didn’t do? That is, do they lay awake at night saying, “I wish I hadn’t done that” or do they toss and turn thinking, “darn, I really wish I had done that”. By their choices, do they happily avoid disasters or do they unwittingly relinquish a lifetime of memories? Do they worry that they messed up or do they regret that they missed out?
So what is remembered most? The time you saw the “Stay off the Grass” sign and properly walked down the sidewalk or the time you saw the sign and frolicked on the grass anyway. How about when the park was “Closed”, but you went in regardless and had a ball? Or the night you stayed out past your curfew to steal one last kiss? Or the thrill of skiing the back country when avalanche warnings were posted as dangerous? And if, because of a choice, someone gets injured or dies, does a wonderful memory automatically become a terrible regret? As the saying goes, is it truly better to have “loved and lost than to have never loved at all”? What would you risk for a life experience or memory?
Moments (memories) are created by putting yourself out there and “going for it”. It often means going against the grain and getting out of your comfort zone, by ignoring common sense, and sometimes bending (or breaking) the rules. Few, if any, memories are made while sitting on a couch.
And if you break a few “rules”, is the line between regret and memory determined by the seriousness of the infraction or the gravity of the rules? Does the risk or safety of an action make it more or less memorable? Do we regret things only because we got caught doing them? Or would we have done them anyway because the perceived value of the memory was greater than the perceived consequences of discovery?
How do we know when someone else gets hurt by our memory-seeking? And is there a sustainable definition of a victimless crime?
Do we each have our own set of inalienable rights and immutable truths? Does this personal code outweigh society’s encumbrances? Did we think that Frank Sinatra was noble or selfish when he sang “I did it my way”?
The answers to these questions perhaps have a basis in the concept of personal integrity. And yet there are as many definitions of that term as there are definitions of what constitutes a beautiful day. The delineations span from the most universal to the most personal. Emerson said, “I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of the sacredness of private integrity”, while Vanna Bonta said, “The heart needs only its own voice to do what is right”. Camus goes further and proclaims, “Integrity has no need of rules”, while in the Sixties the mantra was “if it feels good, do it.” And who was it who said, “The heart will not be denied”?
I am not sure whether any of those definitions codify what integrity is or add sufficient clarity to choose between memories and regrets. If you are a Christian or Jew, the Ten Commandments seem to come close to what characterizes personal integrity. In the Koran there are analogous, but somewhat different interpretations of these mandates. So too is it that in other Eastern religions we find similarities. But those are the big rules; how about the lesser offenses? Are they subject to a more personal construal and therefore fodder for making memories?
Not that you always have to break the rules to make memories. A vacation in England, a Christmas morning, and a school prom for sure can all provide wonderful memories. Perhaps the defining question is: did you stay on the tour bus throughout England or did you bike from village to village? And instead of civilized England, did you consider the Galapagos Islands or Thailand or bushwhacking in Africa? Is it on the “path less traveled by” that memories are more likely to be made?
If personal integrity were a tangible thing, would each memory achieved by bending the rules chip away at its solidarity and would each regret achieved by playing by the rules add to it? In the ledger of life, does pursuing a dream, a love, or an adventure, regardless of the consequences, gain you more or less credits than pursuing the straight and narrow?
Guilt is regret for what we’ve done.
Regret is guilt for what we haven’t done – Unknown
What are you willing to risk to achieve a memory and a rewarding and fulfilling life?