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No Regrets in the Year Ahead

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Listen to the words of Frank Sinatra’s memorable tune, “My Way.”

And now the end is hereAnd so I face that final curtainMy friend I’ll make it clearI’ll state my case, of which I’m certainI’ve lived a life that’s fullI traveled each and every highwayAnd more, much more than this

I did it my way

It’s not Unetaneh Tokef, but it kind of feels that way.

Regrets, I’ve had a fewBut then again too few to mentionI did what I had to doI saw it through without exemptionI planned each charted courseEach careful step along the bywayAnd more, much more than thisI did it my way

Yes, there were times I’m sure you knewWhen I bit off more than I could chewBut through it all, when there was doubtI ate it up and spit it outI faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

It was a favorite of my dad’s, and we played it for him in his hospital room in his final moments, while my mom sang the words in his ear.  It is an incredibly powerful memory, and one of which I have no regrets.

On this final Shabbat of the year, we are not, God willing, facing the final curtain.  But, we are looking back at the fullness of our lives in the year that is drawing to a close and how we have persevered even when we “bit off more than we could chew.”

Regrets?  I have a few.  Do you?  Don’t we all? A recent study suggested that a whopping 99% of us “at least occasionally look back on our lives and wish we had done things differently,” and 43% of us do so routinely.[1]  Regrets are a critical part of our High Holyday experiences, and, ideally, an opportunity to grow and to chart new courses in the year ahead.  As long as we don’t get TOO bogged down so that we are overcome by depression and inaction, by guilt, blame, shame and judgment.

Daniel Pink writes in “The Upside of Regret” that regret, perhaps surprisingly, actually has some upsides!  First of all, if we regret doing something, it can inspire us to handle similar situations differently the next time we approach them.  Is there a mistake you made in 5782 that you want to remember NOT to do in 5783?

Regrets inspire us to make different choices.  Do you regret not learning to play an instrument?  Not being as attentive to maintaining relationships?  Not taking care of your body the way you’d like to?  Whatever the regret, the new year reminds us that we CAN change.  The Hebrew root shuv, to return, appears no less than 7 times in this week’s parsha.  Teshuva, returning to who we really are and who we really want to be, is the theme of the High Holydays.  Regret is the fuel of teshuvah.

Through regret, we can repair that which is broken.  When all else fails, Pink continues, we can search for the “silver lining,”  Did any good, did some good, come out of the situation we now regret?  Is there anything about which we can look back and say, “Well, at least. . . “.  Through regret, we can come to a place of forgiving ourselves for mistakes we’ve made, recognizing our common humanity as we note our wrongdoing.

There is a poem called “Moments” which is variously attributed to numerous authors, which speaks to the purported regrets of an 85 year old who is at the end of his life.

If I could live my life again.

Next time, I would try to make more mistakes.

I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.

I would be sillier than I have been.

I would take fewer things seriously.

I would be less fastidious.

Accept more risks, I would take more trips,

Contemplate more evenings,

Climb more mountains, and swim more rivers…

I would go to more places where I have not been,

Eat more ice cream and fewer beans.

I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.

I was one of those people who lived

sensibly and meticulously every minute of their life.

Of course I have had moments of happiness.

But if I could go back in time, I would try to

have good moments only,

and not waste precious time.

I was someone never went

anywhere without a thermometer, a

hot water bag, an umbrella

and a parachute. If I could live again,

I would travel more frivolously.

If I could live again, I would begin

to walk barefoot at the beginning of the spring

and I would continue to do so until the end of autumn.

I would ride more merry-go-rounds,

I would contemplate more evenings and I would play

with more children.

If I could have another life ahead.

But I am 85 years old you see, and I know that I am dying.

The humorist Erma Bombeck had her own list-

If I had my life to live over…

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

When we hear this wisdom, we notice what little emphasis there is on acquiring material things and how much the focus is on enjoying every possible moment.  Our parsha reminds us that, “See, I set before you this day life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15). And to reinforce the message: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse” (Deut. 30:19).  Life is a blessing.  Choose life, the Torah urges us- with all of its difficulties and challenges and regrets.

What are your regrets? Do you have a few?  How can we choose life and blessing?  What regrets can we learn from and then let go of in this new year that lies before us?


[1] Pink, Daniel, “The Upside of Regret,” Bottom Line Personal, March 1, 2022, p. 11

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