Widen the screen just a little, in fact, and a particularly prominent and disturbing lost self can be seen as merely one guest in a room full of permutations, good and bad. And each of those selves must have an idealized doppelgänger of its own. (Benedict Cary’s Times article)
Today we take stock. And here’s a (not always reliable but interesting) social studies take:
A 2003 study at Concordia University in Montreal and the University of California, Irvine, for instance, suggested that young adults who scored high on measures of psychological well-being tended to think of regretted decisions as all their own — perhaps because they still had time to change course. By contrast, older people who scored highly tended to share blame for their regretted decisions. “I tried to reach out to him, but the effort wasn’t returned.”
In New Year’s Cocktail, Benedict Cary discusses the role of regret – at times useful but at others corrosive.
It’s always New Year’s day with Edgar Allen Poe, prioritizing sadness and regret, all embodied in a lover’s lament for a beautiful, young woman’s death. He may be irritating but he’s right about our gut responses – he understood what moves us. Nostalgia, sadness, poignancy. My impatience with him is probably tied to how much I treasured and invoked such feelings in myself when I was young and my regrets had no sense of proportionality. Why would an eighteen-year-old find nostalgia in the “Whiffenpoof Song” or tender nostalgia in “Auld Lang Syne”? But then, as Cary observes, those are points where choices are less retrievable and have large and quite unforeseen consequences.
I’ve been touching bases more often with old friends in the last few years; one of my brothers just phoned that he & his wife are dropping by this afternoon (younger than me, retired, and with an RV, they now travel the country). Our family, separated by eight hundred miles, doesn’t do such things. Maybe we will, now.
Most friends seem pretty satisfied with how their lives have turned out – married or single, gay or straight, with children or careers, lists of books or of grandchildren – or perhaps looking back on a life of mellow and pleasant moments and fleeting relationships. Some of course are rethinking old choices. Many share with me regrets about exercise and diet; some about drugs and alcohol. But health seems more and more clearly a crap shoot.
This was brought home to me at our every-other-year party as regrets arrived from people who were spending a sad amount of time at M.D. Anderson or nursing quite sick siblings and parents. Then there were many who (probably again a reflection of age) just couldn’t fight off the flu or colds (an e-mail from a friend who spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room, for instance). We will soon have more leisure time but then most of us may be spending more of it in doctor’s offices.
But we are also getting to the point where we can start considering the alternative and this looks pretty damn good. And life is just beginning – my oldest children phoned to say with Christmas calls and letters they found five friends expecting. Demographics are looking up – didn’t that happen fast?