Night before last I attended my 50th High School class reunion, an event that I almost skipped because of misplaced priorities. The precious few hours spent at this event has been on my mind since, anchored in place by a display of classmates that are no longer living. I came away having learned another lesson in life. Each of us should set aside time to mitigate regret. Let’s have a look at this nasty little concept that plagues all of us.
I have made my living around the concept of preserving life and protecting dignity. As such, I have dealt with the fragility of life and the certainty of death, often unexpected and remarkably sudden. On far too many occasions, I have stood with family members and friends of folks who are confronted by the death of a friend, acquaintance or family member, and witnessed first hand the regret that immediately envelops the survivors. I have officiated at the scenes of many sudden deaths, and helped surviving folks through the denial that almost always sets in soon after someone dies unexpectedly. A key ingredient in denial is regret. I am writing to encourage my readers to take steps today to deal with this inevitable response to the loss of someone we hold dear by protecting the friendships we are blessed with.
I was acquainted with every one of the 29 people whose name graced the memorial wall. Some of those folks were friends back in the day, and I had no idea they had died, many of them far too soon, many years ago. As I visited with folks at the reunion, it occurred to me that soon enough some of their names will grace the memorial wall. A sobering thought is the reality that, at some point, my name will be added to this list of folks who once enjoyed a shared existence during those beautiful years of innocence and laughter. I felt a tinge of regret at having never again seen or heard from them after we walked out of the auditorium on the night we graduated. My feelings of regret intensified as I noted several very good friends on that list, friendships that were casually discarded at the end of the High School experience.
The 29 names and pictures on the wall serve as a reminder that friendships are a vital component of living and should never be taken for granted. The friendships that formed during those years deserve a little maintenance over time and I walked away Friday evening resolving to provide that maintenance. There is a harsh reality in play here, the reality that in the next few years, relatively speaking, we all will be added to that list. Life is tough enough without dealing with regret in response to an obituary announcing that an old friend has died, leaving many conversations unspoken and memories unshared.
Fifty years is plenty of time to shake the decidedly one sided existence that we have lived, an existence dominated by work and the pressing needs of day to day life. We now have time to push regret to the back burner by reconnecting with those who shared the intimacy of growing up early in life. Call or write an old friend soon. You won’t regret it.
A lesson learned, courtesy of 29 names on a wall.