Monday, February 23, 2004

Regrettably Yours

Whenever I read an interview wherein the subject claims to have "no regrets", I feel a mixture of anger and jealousy. How can a person live a decent and fully-examined life and come out with not a single regret? There's not a thing better left unsaid, an opportunity missed, a path not chosen? How full of yourself must you be to not have even a momentary regret about bad behavior or carelessness with the feelings of someone else? I find it difficult to believe that they believe what they are saying, because it seems that to have no regrets is to have no understanding of your own mistakes and transgressions against others. How pathetic and incredibly selfish.

On the other hand, I am jealous that they have the ability to be that way, to take a lifelong vacation from their consciences. I occasionally fantasize about how it would be if I could be that way. What if I could become much more than self-confident, past that, and go way over into the red-zone of selfish and conceited? "Are you happy with how you've lived your life, the people you stepped on to get where you are, the ones left behind because they didn't fit into your ambitious plans?" "I have no regrets, I'd do it all again exactly the same way," I'd tell the Rolling Stone reporter, while flipping my long blonde hair over my shoulder and picking an imaginary piece of lint off of the top of my thigh high stockings, just to make the reporter glance in that direction. Yes, that is who I want to be, Super Bitch, able to make huge rationalizations in a single bound!

Mere mortals waste their time with worry, for example, about how an old friend is coping with a problem, even after falling out with them years ago. Or they might loose a night's sleep wondering how to have an uncomfortable conversation with their brother, and regret having put it off for so long. A mere mortal might even ponder the last few months of their parent's life, and wonder if they did everything they possible could have to make their last days comfortable.

But not a Super Bitch. Super Bitches can say, "Screw you, Mom, why should I take care of you now that you are old and sick? I never asked to be born, or for you to raise me or sacrifice for me, so don't expect any kind of payback. I'm busy!" Oh, and they can say, "I know what I'm going to say is really going to hurt you, but I'm not even going to waste time in trying to figure out how to present this sensitively (snicker), and I'm sure as hell not going to stick around and help you deal with the fallout once I drop this bomb in your lap. Nope, nope, that might take time away from me and my important life, and Lord knows I can't do that." Oh hell, a Super Bitch would never have even thought it out that far. She would have said, "Your girlfriend is cheating on you! I told you so! Gotta go shopping now, 'bye!", and after the initial satisfaction of seeing the shock on the face of the recipient of the unpleasant news, would just whip that hair around and walk off to their car.

Super Bitches love things like "Bling-bling". They love to say it, they love to wear it. They don't care about the sweat and sacrifice that it might have cost someone to buy it, only that they can show it off to the other Super Bitches and brag about how so-and-so got it for them. The other Super Bitches will be jealous, but she doesn't care! Old so-and-so who bought it for her might be in debt up to his ass to keep her happy with the bling-bling. She doesn't care! Does she regret pretending to like him more than she does, until she receives enough gifts and it's time to move on to the next sucker? Of course not! Super Bitches deserve everything they can get, and who cares who has to be stepped on to get it.

Of course, the flip side of Super Bitch is Super Martyr, and you have to be careful not to swing the pendulum so far away to avoid being a Super Bitch that you become a Super Martyr by mistake. Super Martyr works overtime to make sure that they do everything for everyone, just so that they will have no regrets. Or perhaps more accurately, so that they won't have anyone be disappointed in them. While Super Bitch strives to make only herself happy, a Super Martyr tries to make everyone happy except herself. Super Martyr will say to you, "You are going away for a couple days? I'll water your plants and feed your cat. No, no problem at all. I didn't have anything important to do, I'd be glad to help you out." And although you didn't ask her to, she'll paint your living room, do your taxes, rake your leaves and wash your car, too. Even though she had to take a couple days off from work to get all of that done for you. And she doesn't get paid for those days. And you have a landscaper, accountant, etc. etc. who would've done all those things for you anyway. But then she wouldn't have the satisfaction of knowing that she bent over backwards for you.

The trap of Super Martyr is that they work so hard to leave no stone unturned, no favor undone, no matter how inconvenient, is that they have the biggest regrets of all. They have ignored their own needs for so many years, in order to cater to the needs of others, that eventually they don't even know what they want for themselves anymore. They bought the unused stock shares in Regret, Inc. that the Super Bitches were selling, so they have a much larger portfolio of regret than the average person.

Somewhere in between the two extremes lie the rest of us. Living, making mistakes, doing our best. Lessons learned from mistakes can be great learning experiences, and there is no way to avoid making mistakes, either. But I think that for the vast majority of people, the real answer to the question, "Do you have any regrets?", is yes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Answer's In The Bag

So, these last couple of weeks have just been a big, steaming pile. Everything has been going wrong in a big way. And although I knew it was coming, when I got a certain sign, there was nothing I could do about it. Well, before I get ahead of myself, a little background..

I used to go to church every Sunday, for years, back when the ex-roommate and I were tight. She was extremely involved in church life, to the point of overkill if you ask me, and I often found myself volunteered to help her with this or that event there. Not that I always minded, because there were a lot of nice people there, and I was enjoying the sense of community I was getting from attending these events. Not to mention that it was a nice bonding ritual that she and I shared, and I guess in a lot of ways my participation there was quite largely tied in with her intense desire to fit in somewhere, and find her niche in life.

I felt at home in the dark, wooden and plaster church. I actually looked forward to the sermons, and our discussions of the pertinent points of them and the gospel reading for the day. And the leader of the church was one of the nicest men you would want to meet, and was an incredible support to me during a family crisis. But I as soon as the rift between my friend and I blew us apart, so went my attachment to that church.

Once I got out of the habit of spending enforced "God time" every week, I found myself spending less and less time praying. It's not that I gave up thinking deeply about spiritual issues, or I never asked God to intercede when things were going badly, but I came to a sharp realization. If God has a plan, then what good does it do to pray to God for this, that or the other thing? It's not a matter of His mercy, it's a matter of what He already knows He wants and/or has to do, and no amount of mortal muttering is going to alter that. It is a futile exercise, or perhaps just a method of soothing ourselves, even though the end result is going to be the same, whether we had prayed on it or not. So what is the point of it then?

Since I came to this epiphany, I have actually felt a little bit more at peace. Back when I thought that my prayers might have some kind of effect on The Big Guy, I could not for the life of me understand why things still went so sour. Perhaps I wasn't good enough, or praying hard enough. It must be due to some defect in me, or my prayers would be answered. What ego-driven nonsense that all is! It was so freeing to turn around and say, "You know, this isn't up to me! I am NOT in charge, and nothing I say or do is going to change that." I don't remember having an exact moment when this came to me, but the sense of relief was immense.

As a result, I've come to believe that all you can do in this life is do your best, be the best possible person you can, and deal with the problems as they come. Be kind to others, be prudent but remember to enjoy life and have fun, and basically just be a good citizen of the planet. This is not to say that I no longer believe in a higher power, or that I don't still identify myself as a member of my old church, but I have to admit that I have come to look at some of its teachings as suspect, so I guess I'm a member in bad standing.

The point of this all was not to get into a deep, theological discussion, for which I freely admit I would be ill-equipped, and I have no desire to have Bible passages lobbed in my general direction by any zealot bent on changing my opinion. Spare me. This was actually a long way to go to get around to a rather ridiculous story, and was meant as background to show why I found the moment meaningful, albeit in a darkly comical way.

Things had been going alright with life, even though there were storm clouds on the horizon: Work was gearing up towards an incredibly busy period full of major stress, J's Mom was scheduled to have a fairly serious surgery, and my brother's wife was out of the country for several weeks, during which time he was starting a new position at work. Stress from within, stress from without. None of it seemed unmanageable, if we just had a bit of luck on our sides.

Since I don't officially pray about my issues any more, I guess you would say that I spend time thinking, analyzing and yes, worrying about the issues in my life, and looking for patterns or clues as to what is the best course of action, or if the universe is trying to give us some kind of sign which way things are going to go. I was involved in one of these brainstorming sessions in the car on the way to work, when I stopped behind a hatchback-type of car at a red light.

I was distracted from my reverie by a large black dog in the back window, who was wagging his tail excitedly and looking right at me. I kind of smiled to myself, and as a private joke I thought, "Oh, what a great omen that is. Look at how happy that doggie is to be out in the car with his humans, just enjoying life. See, life is good, and all these things I am worrying about will turn out just fine! Silly me, all will turn out well!" The dog seemed to wag and drool in happy unison with my thoughts.

It was then that my attention was caught by the green bag. There was a green plastic bag, like the one they might wrap your newspaper in before tossing it onto the end of the driveway, hanging on the back of the car. The top of the bag was neatly tucked under the rear window wiper, and it was clearly holding a small pile of something dark.

I looked at the bag. I looked back at the dog.

It suddenly became all too clear which one was really the sign from the universe, and which way things were going to be going for a while.

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