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On Regret

There is a falsehood floating around out there in the form of this phrase: “I have no regrets.”

How is that possible? Life, if lived to any degree or capacity, is loaded with regrets.

How many people have fantasized about going back in time to their beginnings and starting all over again, and being able to re-live their life but with the knowledge they have acquired over the years? That alone points to a life likely filled with regrets.

We don’t like to look too closely at our regrets, because they are painful to revisit. They are painful to revisit because they expose our own ugliness, the deeply ingrained flaws in our character. If we are people of any character at all, we regret cheating, stealing, lying, betraying, being lazy, being cruel, being stupid.

Here’s something that I deeply regret. When I was in the 4th grade at Portola Elementary School in Los Altos, California, I was out on what we called the blacktop during recess. I was playing a game of two-square, where my opponent and I would be standing across from each other, both of us confined to a separate square that was marked on the black top, and hitting a ball with our fist, causing it to bounce once as it then came into our square, before it was hit back in like manner. If the person receiving the ball failed to hit it back to his opponent properly, he lost a point.

I don’t remember who my opponent was, but when he hit the ball on one occasion, it bounced very high, forcing me to back up to try to position myself in such a way that I could get a good, clean shot at hitting it back. I had to back-peddle quite a bit in an effort to get positioned properly. It just so happened that a classmate of mine by the name of Robin Melvin innocently and without any ill-intent was walking by at the time, and she was in front of me, and the ball came directly to her and she did the most natural thing: she caught the ball.

And I did the most cruel thing: I punched her hard in the back.

She tossed the ball to my opponent and kept walking, attempting to rub her back where I had struck her. She never reported me to the teacher or to the Yard Duty staff. Nothing was ever said of it. And I myself really didn’t think about it after it happened. I guess I felt she got was she deserved for interfering with a game I was playing in, and didn’t give it another thought. I was probably about 9 years old at the time, possibly 8.

The interesting thing about being focused on growth and development is that it leads one to reflect on one’s past, and as the years went by, my mind inevitably turned back to that day that I struck Robin Melvin. Being older and more mature, I felt guilt and shame. I wasn’t sure whether Robin would even remember the incident, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to make contact with her and apologize for my unconscionable behavior. In looking at our high school yearbooks, I discovered she did not appear in any of them, suggesting to me that her family probably moved from Los Altos some time between her fifth grade year and her ninth grade year. Even searching social media, (she would be in her mid-60s now, assuming she was still alive) I turned up nothing. Unfortunately for me, her name is not all that unusual, and if she got married, she was likely going under a different surname now.  There are many, many people out there with her same name.

So what to do? What to do is live with the regret, which is well-deserved, and resolve to be a different kind of person – a gentleman to all women, kind, decent, and respectful.

And one other thing, which is perhaps the hardest thing to do: to forgive oneself.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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