Two or three years ago I spent a two-week vacation taking a French course in Paris. I don’t exactly remember what kind of grammatical exercise we were doing that day – probably the subjonctif – but each of us students was supposed to construct a sentence starting with Je regrette que… (I regret that…)
When it was my turn and the teacher asked me (in French): What do you regret? my mind went blank. I simply couldn’t think of anything to say.
So finally I ended up saying: Je ne regrette rien. I don’t regret anything.
And instead of doing grammar the French course turned into a discussion about Edith Piaf.
Apart from having missed the point of the grammar excercise, my answer took me completely by surprise. I honestly did not regret anything.
However, this was not because I believed that I had made all the right choices or that I had lived life to its fullest or that I would do everything exactly the same way again if I had the chance to do it over.
No way! I would do things differently if I had another chance and I’m too much of a coward to live life to its fullest. But I believed that if I had made different choices in my life, it wouldn’t really have made much of a difference. So I might have been living in a different city and I might have had different job. But I was absolutely convinced that I would still have been me, I would still have been the same person: nervous and anxious and scared of life.
I simply could not imagine anything else. Totally impossible. Basically I believed that I was so small and meaningless that I was incapable of doing anything I might regret. My meaninglessness made me immune to that kind of mistake. Or so I believed.
One or two years later life proved me wrong. I met somebody who showed me kindness at a moment when I did not expect any kindness from a stranger. Who talked to me in a way that actually touched me (and I had been convinced I was untouchable). I was shocked, I got scared, I ran away (without having exchanged any contact information).
And afterwards I regretted this.
The ghost of this person is still haunting me. It’s not a bad ghost: He is only haunting me because I am asking him to, because I keep thinking of him. Today is Januay the 6th, so my imaginary friend, my good ghost, I wish you a merry christmas.
You taught me that even I am not meaningless enough to be immune to regret.