We all have regrets in life. Some big, some small, but we learn to accept these as part of life and move on. After all, living in the past only blinds you of the future and living in past-regret — is really not living at all!
Regrets of course, come in all shapes and sizes, of not chasing or achieving your dreams, broken or departed relationships, or not having spent more time with your kids, etc. We all have them. We’re all human.
Regrets tend to haunt us in the form of memory flashbacks. Personal video clips, replaying the scene over in our mind, reminding us of that which we would like to forget. These memories, sparked by thoughts in association, or a time, place or name in recall.
Still, not all these flashbacks are necessarily about our biggest faux pas’. The most haunting, we tend to lock away and bury deep in our subconscious. No, sometimes its the little, more obscure, yet somehow personally upsetting regrets that come back to haunt us …
MY OBSCURE REGRET
In Canada, the change from middle-school (grades 6 – 8) to High school (grades 9 – 12) is in theory, a big step. Your basic education of reading, writing and arithmetic is over, now it’s time to start thinking about what kind of job or career you may want to pursue. Optional classes are provided as basic-learning steppingstones, to help build on the criteria of your chosen field.
In reality — at least back in the early 70s when I first started high school — academic achievements and life-goals barely made our to-do list. As a teenager, priority one was fitting in, and this need started the very first day of attendance at a new school.
Time of course has blurred in memory my first day of High school, but I do recall how overwhelming it all seemed. It was after all, a big change from middle-school. The difference in the size of the school alone was intimidating. The long empty hallways, seemingly without end, their gleaming hard-waxed floors simply going on into infinity. Then, a massive flood of students during class change, chaotic and overflowing…
A sudden explosion of sight and sound and now lost in the bustling sea of humanity, not sure of which way to go, panic and anxiety begins to set in.
One could feel very lost in this brand new world. — Very lost indeed!
Yet, the young are very adaptable, and after a time, I too assimilated. What helped me get there was that I was not alone in making this transition. Like a lot of first-year high school students, friends from my old school were also making the same adjustments. Welcomed familiar faces in a new school full of strangers.
So, in common-cause or situation, we formed our own little peer-group, each of us easily fitting in. This small group of friends became my lifeline to the old familiar. A safe-haven, in a new and intimidating environment. One that none of us would take for granted, in this, our hour of need.
Peer pressure among teenagers, as we have all experienced, can be extremely influential. In High school, where fitting in is so important at that age, peer groups have influence over most everything. Including unfortunately, common sense! And in a first year high school peer-group of your old elementary friends — peer pressure can be a dominating force.
My high school was 2.89 km or just under 2 miles from my house. In the winter we would bus to school and back, but in the summer when the weather was warm we’d often walk the distance home, after school. At least in the early first years, when youthful energy abounded and needed to be spent.
On one such warm summers day, after school, those from my peer-group who lived my way decided to walk home and forego the bus ride. Perhaps 6 of us in all. We’d made this trip many times before, cutting time off our trek with shortcuts through empty lots and wild-growing fields not yet touched by human development.
More than halfway home, a 2 block field ran beside our old elementary school. It had a worn footpath down the middle, made each summer by those who used it as a shortcut. Halfway through was a bend where the path disappeared because of the high grasses. Until you made the turn, you couldn’t see the other side. As we made the turn that day, we surprised a lone walker. And as he turned to see us — fear started in his eyes.
It was Gary (no need for his last name here, though I do remember it). A big shy lad from our school and a bit of a loner. And a boy whom I’d had a run in with once before. Not that I today remember what it was, but a run in of some sort that both I and the peer group of boys with me that day, remembered.
At the sight of our large group and the short distance between us, I suppose poor Gary was calculating his chances of running. In the end, and rightly so, he saw there was no chance of escape. Like it or not, he was about to face the music.
Like a pack of wild dogs surprised to find its prey alone and vulnerable, my group encircled him. Taunting him, calling him names and fueling each others aggression. Gary, head down, continued walking in silence. His demeanor of one who has given up any form of resistance, leaving only fate to deal the next hand.
But it wasn’t fate that decided in the end — it was peer pressure!
It was peer pressure, because by nature I wasn’t a particularly physically aggressive boy. Oh sure, in sports I could be as competitive as anyone, including physically. But the few fights I’d been in up to this point were for the most part, in self-defense. In no way was I a bully, in fact, I would go out of my way to help those being bullied whenever I could. I detested those that preyed on the weak and helpless.
Yet at the time, no-one was more in a helpless situation than Gary was, on that long-ago summers day.
The boys started chanting for me to hit him. To seek revenge in their eyes. My instincts, my upbringing and my distaste for violence against the weak, slowly dissipating in their relentless call for my aggression.
As a teenager, the last thing I wanted was to be looked upon as weak in the eyes of my peers. Risk losing my hard-earned status, my place in the hierarchy within the group.
These were my thoughts. Thoughts of a young boy wanting to fit in and being challenged to prove that he belonged. Foolish immature thoughts, though at the time very real and self-important.
And so I hit him!
I clenched my fist and cold-cocked him hard in the side of the head. The boys whooping it up in anticipation of an oncoming fight. Their eyes big and shiny, faces flushed with excitement. The fire had been lit! In a frenzy, they could sense the end was near — the prey was about to fall!
But Gary didn’t respond as expected. He winced all right with the blow, yet simply put his head down in acceptance and continued his terrorized walk home. My response to this was also unexpected. Aggression instantly left me and shame took its place!
I felt shame for my unprovoked actions. Shame for picking on the helpless.
There was instant regret for what I had done!
I did not throw another blow that day. Perhaps mumbled some weak future warning but without any real meaningful intention. I was done, spent and ashamed after just one punch. We let poor Gary alone after that, left him to walk home alone the rest of the way. The boys, perhaps satisfied enough at my actions, hooted and hollered the rest of the way home. But not me! I felt no pride in what I’d done. — I felt only regret!
This scene comes back and haunts me now and then. Even today. I’ve told my best friend about it, and he simply laughed. Said it’s no big deal, just something from your childhood days, an experience of growing up that all boys have in someways or another. Perhaps he’s right, it’s no big deal, and it did happen long ago when I was still learning what is was to be a man.
Why does this memory, even today, continue to trouble me so? Why can’t I put it behind me after all these years and file it away as a foolish childhood incident? Why, when someone asks me my regrets, does my mind immediately return to that long-ago moment in time?
I’ve made my share of regrets. Many, much more haunting in nature than the one that day. Yet, that is the one that haunts me most. That is the one regret I can’t seem to forget. And I for the life of me, have a hard time understanding — Why?