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.