The Saddest Words of All
American Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'” Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), who was a contemporary of John Greenleaf Whittier, staunch abolitionist, and author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” had this to say, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” What are these two like-minded individuals telling us? The saddest words of all are the words of regret, especially if they are uttered at one’s deathbed.
Are there letters to relatives you’ve left unwritten, telephone calls left undone, family time left unspent, broken relationships left unrepaired, and goals left abandoned? That wouldn’t be a problem if we were immortal, for then we could always do those things “someday” in the future. But we’re not. We have a limited amount of time available. To avoid experiencing “the saddest words of all,” to avoid dying with regret, we need to get out of the habit of leaving things undone.
What value is a blossom that doesn’t open? What value is our life if we don’t let our potential unfold? When we habitually take action at the moment opportunity strikes we lead fulfilled lives. But those who lead lives of inaction are like stones that exist but don’t live.
Are there things you’ve done or failed to do that you regret? Of course, what a silly question! After all, we’re human, which is another way of saying we’re imperfect. So, there’s no need to panic or obsess over our regrets. Instead, we can use them as a positive force. We can accept them as a wakeup call. We can use them to spur us on to new behavior by choosing to act, not postpone. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
The dark of night is not the end of the world. Our gravest mistakes are not the end of life. No matter how we blundered, we can turn ourselves around by learning from the past. We can become like the lotus blossom that majestically rises out of the mud.
When we close the gap between what we want to be and what we are now, we will have high self-esteem. Low self-esteem is due to a huge gap between the two. To boost our confidence and eliminate regrets, all we have to do is our best. How can we not succeed if we always remember we have the choice between becoming better or becoming bitter.
We need to refocus our attention from our “failures” and regrets to the opportunities that beckon us. As, Jerome K. Jerome wrote, “Opportunities flit by while we sit regretting the chances we have lost, and the happiness that comes to us we heed not, because of the happiness that is gone.” Sometimes we avoid examining our regrets because of the pain. But that’s a mistake. Use them as a lesson, as a stepping-stone to a better you.
“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal;” said Barbara Bush, “You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” I’ll end with a quote by Max L. Lucado, followed by a poems. Here’s Max’s thoughts, “Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.”
If I had my child to raise over again
If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
I’d see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often and affirm much more.
I’d model less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.
By Diane Loomans