A Distant Shadow

Sometimes you hear a television reporter interview a celebrity asking if they have any regrets in their life.  I am always astounded that without hesitation most celebrities say no, that if they had to do it all over again, they would do their life the same way.  How can that be?  Have they never made any mistakes?

I talk to plenty of folks that assure me everyone who lives in the real world has regrets.  The question is: how do we live with them?

Some pretend they don’t have any.  I imagine this is the way of the shallow celebrity or professional athlete.  They allow that any miniscule mistake really only contributed to the larger mosaic and milieu that made them the artist they are.

Another strategy is to let our regrets define our identity.  You see this sometimes in those in recovery.

“Hi, I’m Joe.  I’m a regretter.”

“Hi, Joe. Welcome to our meeting and thanks for sharing, Joe.  Cookies and Kool-Aid will be served after tonight’s meeting.”

There is no daylight between who they are and what they have done that deserves their regret and remorse.  It is a permanent scar that disfigures their soul.  Their regrets are a calling card to gain them some street cred to talk to and ostensibly help other regretters.  It takes a regretter to reach a regretter is their mantra.

At the risk of simplicity, I want to ask if there is a third way.  Is it possible to live with regrets as a contributing part of your life without those same wounds marking your identity in such a way that others are not put off by your scarlet wounds?

A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician whose career and life were crippled by schizophrenia. Nash taught at MIT until schizophrenia and delusions took over his life. After years of struggle, he began teaching at Princeton and went on to win the Nobel Prize for his theory of the dynamics of human conflict as it relates to economics.

In the film, there are three characters that support Nash in his struggles in life.  One is a roommate from Princeton. A second is a little girl who is his niece whom he adores.  And the last is William Parchment who is a top secret government operative.  All three of these characters are integral to Nash’s view of reality.  The only problem is that they are not real.  They are delusions.  They certainly seem real to John Nash whose greatest strength is letting him down: the beautiful mind.

Toward the end of the movie, Nash is invited into the professors’ lounge by a man who has just told him he’s being considered for the Nobel Prize. Nash is uncertain of how he should respond; he wonders if his mind is fabricating a dream. He even asks a student whether the man is real or a hallucination. When Nash is convinced that the man and his invitation are genuine, he still resists, feeling unworthy of the exclusivity of the professors’ lounge. He never enters this lounge, aware that his episodes of psychotic behavior are well known by faculty.

As the messenger from the Nobel Prize committee strolls with Nash to the faculty lounge, they engage in an awkward conversation as to the stability of Nash’s mental state . . .

The awards are substantial. They require private funding. As such, the image of the Nobel is…

I see. You came here to find out if I was crazy? Find out if I would… screw everything up if I actually won? Dance around the podium, strip naked and squawk like a chicken, things of this nature?

Something like that, yes.

Would I embarrass you? Yes, it is possible. You see, I…I am crazy.

I take the newer medications, but I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind, I choose not to indulge certain appetites. Like my appetite for patterns.

As they have this conversation, the three characters, Charles, the niece, and William Parchment, all walk in pace with Nash and the messenger from the Nobel Prize committee, but off to the side like distant shadows.  He glances at them, but he doesn’t engage them.  They are a part of who he is, but he is defined by something that transcends those ever-present delusions.

That’s what I choose to do with my scarlet regrets.  They are always with me, but I choose not to indulge in the appetite of self-pity.  I choose not to be identified by my regrets.  I choose, instead, to live in the light of a transcendent reality: I am a favored son of the Most High God.  I am an heir and joint heir with Jesus Christ.

Nash walks warily through the gothic entrance and sits at a table. Unexpectedly, the professors begin to walk over to John’s table and lay down their pens in front of him. This is a tradition Princeton faculty use to honor highly esteemed colleagues. One by one, the professors acknowledge their love and support for the troubled man who, despite difficulties, stayed the course: “It’s an honor, John.” “It’s a privilege, John.” “Congratulations, John.”

One day I will be allowed entrance into a great hall and sit at a table and the King will say,

To him who overcomes I will give him…a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.

So long, regrets.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness with my friends and sons.
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4 Responses to A Distant Shadow

  1. Justin Harris says:

    I think this theme plays out in many areas beyond moral failures but also in our failed efforts at achievement. Thank you for this reminder Joe.

  2. Nathan and Janelle Flint says:

    I understand completely; my regrets are leverage to do something greater. Walk with Jesus.
    Nathan

  3. eric says:

    Fantastic story. I liked the part that explained self pity. This can cripple a persons walk for along time if its not recognized. Then I love the part that God has made us worthy, now we only need to receive it and then start walking in it.

  4. Justine says:

    It is amazing how we can find ourselves defined by what we have done or have not done that we feel we should have, rather than being defined by who Jesus says we are. I found this to be one of your best articles Pastor. I have seen A Beautiful Mind and it has resonated with me strongly since the day I watched it. Regrets, for me, are like a yellow brick road, upon which my empathy leads me to relationships with others on my path who may or may not choose to join me as I travel to “The Emerald City”, known to me as heaven.

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