During a dark autumn in my undergraduate years, I wrote in the top margin of a composition notebook page:
No answer to these trick questions / No time, shit stressin’ / My life found / I gotta live for the right now / Time waits for no man / Can’t turn back the hands once its too late / Gotta learn to live with regrets.
The line, from Jay-Z’s “Regrets,” was a regular reference point for my brooding, neurotic mind. I wish I could tell you twelve years later, I’m less brooding or neurotic, but that’s not the case. What I can say is age has come with a wisdom that allows me to let shit go. At 20 years old, I did not possess this skill.
I was in the throes of heartbreak. The kind that comes when you overhear a boy to whom you’ve granted VIP status drunkenly confess to your friends “I got a girlfriend now.” A girlfriend that couldn’t be you, because last you heard, he wasn’t interested in having a girlfriend. I recall with embarrassing clarity how my heart seized at his announcement; how every step I took as I rushed out of that party felt like running barefoot on hot coals. How I spent that night curled on my bed, staring blankly at the wall with a pounding head and a dry throat.
The Jay-Z line couldn’t have shown up in my notebook that night. It must have appeared after I emerged from catatonia; when scouring my mind for the moment I’d fallen out of “girlfriend” contention became my favorite hobby. This is what intelligent people do, isn’t it? Litter our minds with drafts of edited history–how it could have gone our way “if only.” In our quests for healing, we incessantly pick at scabs that mend themselves when allowed to breathe.
I didn’t understand it, then. The peace that accompanies reconciliation. We trick ourselves into obsessing over the past in search of wisdom; believing that by revisiting our trauma, we’re engaging in proactive emotional protection. We aren’t torturing ourselves–we’re studying the lessons in case the same questions are on our next test.
If you have even a shred of wisdom, you will find moments you wish you’d done differently. The difference between wisdom and regret, however, is that regret dwells in those moments, wishing to relive them. Wisdom accepts the fallout and moves forward. It’s standing over your own shoulder and rubbing your back through the tears, knowing at some point you’ll will yourself to let it go. It’s blocking your mental rabbit holes with a DEAD END sign. It’s taking baby steps toward tomorrow, uncertain if you’ll meet old nemeses on the path, but walking any-damn-way.
It’s choosing to survive.