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.
I don’t see your actions as hurtful, rather a positive statement of your values.
It would have been different perhaps if I had actually told her how I felt – shared my values. In effect, I waltzed off in a self-righteous, moralistic huff leaving her to wonder what happened. I owed her better than that. The me of today would explain my preference to spend no time with a racist, for example. She was many things besides ‘wife of racist’, and I lost sight of that until later 🙂
I understand what you mean – you can disagree with the action without rejecting the person. But I can easily identify with what you describe: I remember seeing things in black and white, and being blissfully ignorant of other people’s feelings (especially older members of my family). So we all have regrets. I think that writing about it like you did is a positive contribution.
D’accord! And it seems to be a theme of mine in this life: learning from my regrets…. 🙂 Making something positive out of it seems to almost partially erase the worst of it…