An idiot once told me that I’d only regret the things I never did. I was in the seventh grade, and I was being encouraged to confess love to my best friend’s older brother.
To be fair, if I’d followed her misdirection and made said confession, I doubt by now I’d feel one way or the other about it. What’s more, a broad interpretation of the aphorism proves true. Certainly, for example, I regret coming home last Saturday night and not drinking any water before bed: I regretted it all of Sunday, and I will continue to regret it for the rest of this week. Similarly, I regret not keeping my mouth shut on numerous occasions. And, as usual, I will regret not revising or editing this column when I see it in print tomorrow.
But even in the extremes of my most lamentable foolishness — such as those above — I also cherish what I didn’t do. Deeply. Imagine how productive my week would have been had I not spent Sunday listless and hungover, all of the lifelong friendships I would have enjoyed had I not proven myself a total nitwit by speaking, all of the employers I could have had, but won’t because they’ll find these horrendous columns I’ve mistakenly penned! What else could sanction my rich imaginary life except such folly, such absurd failure to act?
To put it in terms that even the sane and capable will understand: think about your last hookup, if you’re into that sort of thing. Now think about your last flirtation — the librarian who smiled at you, or that boy who walked you back from section that one time, right before he dropped the class. Don’t you cherish the person you didn’t have more than the one you did? Aren’t you happier imagining he’s a good kisser, rather than nursing that really bizarre tongue wound?
Sure, you’re saying, but maybe the next one will be different. Not every Yale man is a tongue-biter, right? Or maybe you’re smiling smugly, because you have a boyfriend, and you finally succeeded in teaching him to French properly. Either way, mistakes are learning experiences, and now you know that you shouldn’t ingest IcyHot.
True: in many cases it takes having made the mistake to know what a mistake looks like. I know.
But, no matter how happy you are with your life, you can always imagine and cherish an alternate universe in which you are even happier.
When you leave Yale, you will probably have done a handful of wonderful things and a smattering of absolutely miserable things, having left most things untouched. The same applies to people. Of course, there are things and persons you’ll have experienced that you will always joy to remember — columns you actually edited, and people who didn’t need lessons in the obvious.
But while there’s only so much you can do — and put off doing — in four years at Yale, the imaginable possibilities are endless. What if you had taken a gap year? What if you had studied abroad? What if you had applied to EP&E? Wait, okay, you know that last one would have made you pretty miserable.
Still, there’s so much that you haven’t done that could have been wonderful. So many places and things that you could have explored that could have changed everything. And the less you do, the more you amass, and the more rich and wonderful your imaginary life becomes!
If you don’t think this way already — and admit it, you do — I would encourage you to start now. Not just when you consider the things you’ve already shied away from doing — no.
Consider, in times of great and minor crisis, what precious potential you save for yourself by hesitating. By taking the road more travelled. By not daring to disturb the Universe. Prufrock made a whole poem of it.
All things end, except for those the imagination may keep alive forever. Cherish the words you never said — who knows how great they would have been?
Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .