As my nephew and I sat on the back deck drinking beer, watching the trees, and discussing the state of the world, I remembered my relationship with Aunt Mabel, when I was his age – mid twenties.
We’ve lived nearby since he was a little boy. He spent a lot of time over the years on our shady front porch, painting pictures, or watching the birds. I too grew up with the experience of regular visits from my aunt, who would always spend one on one time with me, talking about any subject under the sun – no holds barred.
She didn’t bring me story books about fairy princesses; she brought unusual things – like a book about “Indian Corn”*. She gave me the experience of respect; of valuing my curiosity and interest – when I was widely considered ‘dumb’. She introduced me to “alternative” everything: religions, health theories, even yoga before most people had heard of it. She was an explorer. I believe that’s why I am too.
Interesting thing, that. The impact of different adults on us. But she was outnumbered in my life. Far too long, due to my father’s dominant influence, I cared about other peoples’ opinions more than I should. So, for instance, when she married late in life a southern gentleman who was a racist, I distanced myself from her in a fit of embarrassment and intellectual snobbery. She eventually moved far away, and I had virtually no relationship to her for many years.
Before she died, I visited her. One day I told her how much she had meant in my young life. Suddenly I saw in her eyes, in her face, the deep hurt I had caused her, the loss it had been for her. For the first time really, it wasn’t about me. And as with all histories, there was nothing I could do to erase it.
I have a number of regrets like this. The thing about regrets is that they are useless – a waste of energy – unless we can find a way to turn them into something positive. It’s like basic arithmetic, in a way: perhaps it will take two or three positive contributions to the world, to take away my negative acts. I’m working on it.