Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Throughout our lives, we find ourselves experiencing regret, often in spite of ourselves and even despite our best efforts.

Regret is a compelling emotion, for several reasons. First, unlike most other emotions, regret can be spawned by both the passive and the active: we can feel it due to something we said or did not say, actions we did or did not do, words or actions said or done but with the wrong inflection or timing, etc. So in a sense regret encompasses both the positive and the negative.

Yet what I find even more interesting is the fact that regret is experienced subsequent to a given event. It is an emotion that links that past to the present. And it can inform the future.

So regret carries a lot of power, which like all forms of power can be used for good or the opposite.

Since my father's passing a year and a half ago, I have felt more strongly than ever my tie to those who preceded me. Experiencing my father's absence constantly, I have been unexpectedly thrust into a new mode of living, one defined each moment by the fact that I now have to wait until Moshiach comes to speak to my father again, to hear his voice aloud again, and so on. Existing in this way, the time I did have with him has become magnified.

We all take our parents for granted to a degree. I say this because it is very difficult for any child to truly accept that one day our parents will no longer be with us in this world. And so, unable to completely acknowledge that fact consciously, our savouring of them while they are in this world is ever so slightly diminished.

Throughout my life, I always loved hearing my father tell stories of his family before they came to Canada. I remember one visit in particular as an adult where I spent an entire afternoon sitting with both of my parents just listening to him tell stories and asking questions. Since both of his parents had passed away before I was born, the only way I knew them was through these stories. But also, by hearing the stories I got to appreciate a different man than my father as I always knew him: my father as a boy in Germany, as a preteen fleeing the Nazis on the years-long journey to Canada, as a rambunctious teenager in Canada, as a young man before he me my mother.

Yet with all that knowledge, I never truly appreciated who and what my father was until now. I realize, in hindsight, that I did not appreciate the strong sense of yiddishkeit he instilled in me, the torahdik mindset he possessed and how it imbued all that he did. I did not acknowledge the truly exceptional person he was, in his own quiet way. Because as boisterous and Germanic as my father was on the surface, in the end he was always a man guided by the teachings he learned in the Mir back in Germany. Instead, it has only been since I began cherishing my memories of my father that he has come into sharp focus for me, only now that I have been granted a full view of him as a person, not just as my father.

The thing about regret is that we can either let it consume us or instruct us. I am happy to say that I have been fortunate enough to generally experience regret in the latter way, B'H'. Especially as of late. Feeling that sense of the past and consequently feeling its connection through me to both the present and the future, I try to honour my father every day by being the type of daughter he will continue to be proud of. And, by remembering that I perhaps took him for granted a bit too often, I cherish every conversation I have with my mother that much more. I try and learn from my previous mistakes, which I made at his expense.

So Daddy, I hope that I continue to remember that instead of being consumed by a sense of should of, would of, could of, I will continue to instead exemplify a sense of I should, I will, I can. Just like you taught me through your example.


  1. We’ve all done things in our lives that we have regretted. Sometimes it is an action we have taken, or something we have said. Other times it is our lack of taking an action. That action would have made all the difference in our lives.

    Many people regret the career path they have chosen, or not furthering their education. There are others who regret not saving enough money for the future.

    The positive function of regret is to remind you that you may have made a mistake. Regret helps you not to make the same mistake again.

    The negative function of regret is in not doing anything about that emotion, thus making the same mistake over and over again.

    We should be learning from our mistakes and not make them again.


  2. REGRET! That is one of the heaviest topics anyone has to deal with. I have not met a human who does not regret spending enough quality time with his parents.

    We are genetically programmed to want to fly off the leave the nest. This means that from the time we are pre-teens, we endeavor for independence. This quest for autonomy results in our spending less time with our parents, and sometimes even fighting with them and/or distancing ourselves from them.

    It is just like Yiddishkeit. Many born frum, no matter how frum they were raised, sometimes stray a little. We may shout aloud that we no longer desire to be so frum, and will never return. But deep inside we "know" we will return later in life.

    The same with our parents. We often "stray" from them, telling ourselves and the world their failings, and why we are better off without them. But, deep inside we believe we will return and get close to them again.

    But life happens.

    We travel, marry, divorce, move, marry, move again, take jobs in other communities/states/countries, ... all the time believing one day will be join back up with our parents and spend quality time with them.

    Then without realizing it, time has passed by. That curved spacetime thing comes to bite us in the milchik air. ... we suddenly find our parent and/or parents ill, old, and/or gone.

    We all cry. We all mourn the passing of a parent.

    But, soon thereafter we mourn something else. We mourn the lost opportunities we could have had with them. This hurts. This hurts more than the loss of the person. Oh, sure we mourn the loss of the parent deeply and forever, but we also mourn VERY deeply the lost time, the lost opportunities, the meetings which never took place, but should have.

    This feeling is universal. We all feel these feelings of Regret and Guilt. These deep feelings are a good sign, they show just how loving you are. The deeper the feelings the more you should realize just how deep your love and caring is. That should be uplifting.

    Now, let's look at it from the parents' viewpoint. Sure, there are words a parent says, but deep down the parent is very happy that we went off on our own and are making it in this world. Perhaps a parent's deepest fears is that he/she has failed to teach or prepare his/her offspring for the real world.

    When the parent sees and hears how we have our life in another town or province, and do not come running back home every week, they may complain, but inside they feel happy that they succeeded in giving us those important skill.

    And... also.... these same parents had similar feelings to ours a generation ago. They understand. No matter what they say, they understand.

    Oh sure, some parents think that if they do not try to make a child feel guilty for not visiting/calling enough the child will not feel loved. But, deep inside, no matter how much they gripe, they are proud of that very autonomy that keeps us away from them.

    Oooops... I am a real Yenta; aren't I? Sorry for going on too long.

  3. Every one of us, at some point or another, are guilty of believing that people we care about will always be there for us, and will always be available. However that isn't necessarily so. Many of us have a tendency to put off things we want to say and do until tomorrow... sometimes we run out of tomorrows.

    Our mothers, fathers, family, and friends are the core that we interact with everyday. We must always realize that there are no guarantees that each one of them will be available to us at our desire. By thinking that they will always be there, we can very easily take them for granted. The good deeds and contributions that they make to our lives can sometimes go by unnoticed. We casually can mutter a phrase like "Mom's always there", "Anne's a great friend", "Isn't Dad great?" like a programmed response with not a second thought to it.

    Then one day, out of the blue, the phone doesn't ring, the letters stop coming...the person is gone. At that point, we begin to realize just how much we've lost. The space that's left in our lives, that was once full, is now empty. Regret starts creeping into our thoughts that maybe we didn't say enough to the person, while they were still here.

    Even though it is very hard, and sometimes impossible to change the past, we can change the present. Look around....think about who in your life contributes to your development on a regular basis...and those that you, too, help. "Thank you" is not a very difficult phrase to say...but its meaning to a given person can be tremendous.

    It's okay to tell people how much you need them, and how much you love them.
    Do it while they're here.