Sandra Benedetto: On regret

When I think of procrastination I usually think of it in terms of school assignments. Don’t wait until the last minute, teachers warn students. Don’t put everything off, seniors advise freshmen. I thought I’d learned the lesson a long time ago. I make self-imposed deadlines before the real deadline. I know that it’s easier to just do it now and put it out of your mind. At least I thought I knew. Recently I realized that I hadn’t learned my lesson at all — or at least not when it matters.

Last year I found out that a grade school friend of mine was terminally ill. We hadn’t kept in touch after high school and had only had a few Facebook interactions in recent years. I congratulated him belatedly on his marriage and the birth of his first daughter, and he “liked” a few of my posts.

Every so often last year I checked the CarePages website to see how he was doing. I intended to send him a message one of those days. I planned to tell him how influential he’d been in my coming-of-age years. I would tell him that I could still recall in vivid detail some of our conversations, like when he taught me the meaning of the word maelstrom working on our high school’s literary magazine together. Or the day in 8th grade when we walked home from track practice and talked about agnosticism. Or the night when he had people over but the two of us sat in the entryway to his house and talked about relationships. I was chewing gum that fell out of my mouth when he made me laugh.

I was going to tell him that I never had conversations like that with anyone else, where we could segue from Pulp Fiction to Beowulf and back again. I was going to tell him that it still makes me laugh to think of him teasing me for something flaky I said in our 6th grade Language Arts class. I was going to tell him that I could still point out exactly where we sat next to each other in our British Lit class, dissecting Kubla Khan or Ode to a Grecian Urn together. I was going to tell him that it came as no surprise that he went on to become a professor, writer and linguist because everybody who knew him knew he’d go on to do great things.

But I didn’t. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe I wanted to believe that he’d get better and it wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe I thought by writing these things to him that I was saying his situation seemed hopeless. Maybe I thought it was selfish, meaning more to me than it would to him. Maybe it felt too melodramatic. Like the student who finds a way to justify waiting one more day, I put it off. I even wrote it on one of my “to do” lists last summer and crossed it off without having done it. In November I found out via Facebook that he had passed away.

My heart breaks for his loved ones and simply because the world has lost such an incomparable soul. He was that rare combination of being self-assured without being boastful, of challenging others to think more deeply without being the slightest bit judgmental. I find it hard to believe that the kind, wise-beyond-his-years philosopher that I had the privilege of learning beside and from has gone so young into that good night.

I don’t have an inflated sense of how important my words would have been to my old friend — my message would have been just one of many from people who admired or cared for him. But it would have been something. I have to think if I were in that position it would feel nice to know I was remembered in such a way. The moral of the story is clear — I shouldn’t have put it off, I should have reached out when I had the chance. However, I am reluctant to turn something so profound into something trite by concluding with the moral of the story. Maybe a resolution is less objectionable. Unlike a preachy or prescriptive moral message, resolutions let us believe we can be the person we want to be. In that spirit, as we embark upon a new year, I resolve not to procrastinate when it matters; I resolve to let people know that my life is different because of them, even if it seems premature or dramatic or I don’t know how it will be received.

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11 Comments

  1. Too often we all regret not saying something that we wish we would have. Maybe someday we will all learn to speak what’s on our minds. Myself included. Your memories were a joy to read. I’m very sorry your loss.

  2. I have a similar story – but know that I couldn’t have recounted it with the power and grace that you just have… And it will always be one of the major regrets of the rest of my life. Sorry for your loss – and what it entails…

  3. This piece really moved me. Left me speechless, really. It’s a strangely hard thing to remember to tell people what they mean or have meant to us. This prose will stick with me going forward. Thank you for writing about such a personal experience.

  4. I completely agree. Although cliche, it’s truly the simplest actions that are most impactful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my New Year’s post “2015” if you get a chance…

  5. Sandra, forgive my late comment. I have been travelling and just come across this piece. I was very moved by it and, like many I suspect, felt a reflection in my own life. When my mother died, I realised all the things I had not said or asked, all the emotions and feelings I had not shared. But it was not until my father-in-law died, some ten years later, that this regret hit me hard. I agree with your resolution to never let this happen again. Not a New Year’s resolution – maybe a New Way?

    1. Thank you for your heartfelt comment, Mike. I’m sorry for your losses. Grief so often seems to be compounded with regret. A New Way . . . I’m on board.

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