When I was in high school I was a pretty serious guy. I was a good student. I was active in politics. I was a member of the church youth group. I didn't drink much. I certainly never touched a blunt. I had the world figured out completely in black and white.
This last Friday I had coffee with the old flame I'd dated through most of high school (thanks Facebook.) In many ways she was sort of the opposite of me. She was a free spirit. She broke into dance at the drop of a hat, partied, drank and smoke pot. She wasn't a good student but damn did she love and celebrate being alive.
At this point you can see why this relationship didn't work out, but that's not my point here. :)
So we had a great time laughing and catching up on the last 20 years. We talked about old times. We couldn't figure out what happened to "Buddy" the stuffed monkey we used to trade back and forth with a generous helping of perfume or cologne for good measure. I tend to believe that all the Old Spice I dumped on the thing rotted it clean away.
At a certain point she asked me about regrets from those times. I shared with her that my biggest regret is that I was too serious. That I didn't party more. That I didn't dance more. That I didn't get to know all of the great people in my high school better because I had such a colossal stick up my ass.
Then I asked her if she had any regrets. She shared with me that she wished she'd been more serious. She wished she'd been a better student. She wished she'd worried a little more about the future.
When I was driving home after this I started thinking about this exchange and quickly went from giggling to laughing maniacally at the irony of this. When you broke it down- I regretted I wasn't more like her. She regretted she wasn't more like me.
It strikes me there are more than a few life lessons here.
There can't be a person on this planet that doesn't carry regrets from when they were a teenager. I wish I'd had the courage to ask out that pretty girl from first period English. I wish I'd told that cute guy I liked him. I wish I'd tried out for basketball. I wish, I wish, I wish.
Sometimes I wish I had a "rewind" button for my own life. Often that wish comes when I'm thinking about someone I've loved and lost like my dad. I want back some benign, irremarkable moment like a family dinner that I could just take in and enjoy him telling a bad joke, or an old story.
But there also times that I wish that I could go back and make a different decision, pick a different path. For example- that time my friend Doug tried to set me up with that hot girl and we were over at her apartment drinking Everclear (straight) and I was so drunk that when she asked me to head up to her room with her to "help her set her alarm clock" I told her to "push the 'clock' button at the same time you push the up down arrows" and went back to drinking. It didn't occur to me until the next morning when I was hung over and throwing up that maybe, just maybe she knew how to set that clock and wanted me upstairs for another reason.
The thing is- that's not the way life works. Life is not like the movie "Groundhog Day." There aren't right choices and wrong choices that we could "fix" with just the benefit of hindsight.
For every decision we make, for every door we close we may be losing an opportunity but we're almost always opening another door in return. You may not have asked that girl you liked to the winter formal but may have wound up falling love with the girl you did wind up taking. You may not have gone out for basketball but met your best friend while sitting in the stands cheering on the team. You may not have slept with that hot girl your friend was trying to set you up with but at least you swore off Everclear for life.
Strike that last one.
I think sometimes we forget that who we are are the sum of all the millions of decisions we've made in our lives. Even the "bad" decisions have helped to bring us to the person we are today. Are you happy with yourself? Thank the younger, wilder and wholly irresponsible you.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go dig through my closet looking for an old, stinky stuffed monkey and spray Old Spice on it. Just for old time's sake.