List of regrets

We all have regrets. But do we all make lists of them and publish them on the web? Probably not, for good reason. But to the extent that these experiences bind us in our humanity, maybe we should. Here are some of mine.

I was swimming in a roped-off region in a lake when I saw a small duckling that had been separated from its family. I swam after it, thinking I’d easily catch it, but it paddled away surprisingly fast out of the swimming region and towards the large open lake. Wanting to help, I kept up the chase for a while, but I only drove it further out into the lake, and I eventually gave up, partially out of uncertainty about my goal. Later that night when walking towards the parking lot, I came across a mother duck with its ducklings and was sure this was the intended home. It brought to mind that terrible scene in Planet Earth (I think) where photographers in a helicopter watch a baby elephant, somehow separated from the herd, run helplessly off into the desert in the wrong direction. The narrator sadly explains their non-intervention policy, which was of course heartless and wrong. I should have caught the duck.

In fourth grade, at my small school in my small, rural town in Michigan, a new kid came to class. He was from Indonesia and had been adopted. We made fun of him because he smelled bad. All I remember is him running away on the playground and probably crying.

Decades ago I was at my parents house in Wisconsin and was out the yard. A young neighbor kid from a rough family living in a house nearby was hanging around, asking questions about what I was doing and so on. At some point I had to go in to dinner so I got rid of him. I wish I’d invited him in to eat with us.

My wife and I were out on a date and found ourselves in a karaoke dive bar. It was early and there were just a few takers. I had this very strong urge to participate and sing a Pearl Jam song, but I chickened out.

We had started a dinner group with some close friends of ours that met quarterly or so, rotating among our houses. I missed one of these dinners because I was traveling for work. A while later, one of those friends, who had hosted the dinner I missed, died in a tragic accident. I miss him all the time. It wasn’t the last time I saw him, but I wish I had been at that dinner.

New neighbors moved in next door and were busy painting and getting their house ready. I’d chatted a bit in the yard and we had hit it off a bit. One night we had family in town and I was headed out to pick up dinner. It was late and I saw them painting through the front window. They’d been working all day. I thought only too late that I could have offered to grab something for them. It would have been easy.

I came across this piece of artwork at a flea market and texted a picture of it to my wife. But I did not buy it.

In my sophomore year of college I was the dorm president. The next year, I moved to college apartments, and had this great idea to make a sign next to the best parking spot reading “Reserved for President of [DORM NAME]”. I would have done it in the proper style so as to look official, and seating it in poured concrete. But I didn’t.

One of the main tasks of the dorm president was to organize the spring banquet. We didn’t plan for audio, and didn’t realize it till the last minute. One guy on one of the dorm floors had a nice speaker set, but we couldn’t get ahold of him. I made an executive decision to borrow them on the assumption he would have said yes. It turned out okay but was the wrong call.

I decided to attend a conference where I had a paper but was not presenting, and missed my cousin’s wedding. It was a big family gathering and a sort of goodbye to my grandparents’ place, since they were moving into a retirement home. So I missed the family event, and my wife and kids never saw a place that I had visited a lot as a child and which meant a lot to me.

I repeatedly put off getting an oil change on a dying old car and the engine seized while someone else was driving it. It eventually caught up to me and totaled the car. (I can barely bring myself to acknowledge this but feel it is a measure of penance.)