Remember that there are some bad decisions for which there are no do-overs. We do ourselves and others a favor by taking a minute to slow down and think.
I broke one of my bowls today. Since it was a relatively cheap melamine bowl, the fact that I had to throw it away was not a devastating loss. Still, it irritated me, because I now have only seven bowls, not eight, and we are a family that enjoys food that comes in bowls (stews, cereals, yogurts, that kind of thing). I wished very much that I could take back that minute when I chose to stack the bowls as high as possible to transfer them from dishwasher to cabinet. Had a spent the time making and transporting two, smaller, stacks, that bowl wouldn’t have slipped and broken.
A month ago, while driving in a wooded area, I had to back up to turn around. What unnerved me was that there was a gully along the left side of my car. I was desperately afraid that, as I backed up, I would drive into the gully. Even if I didn’t break my axle, the road I was on was so narrow it was inconceivable to me that my car could be rescued. The problem was that I focused so hard on avoiding the gully, and was in such a hurry to turn around, that I managed to back into the stump of a tree. My car is relatively new, but it now has a puncture in the rear bumper and a dent in the hatch door. It’s not worth the expense of fixing, but these imperfections in a nearly new car irritate me almost beyond bearing. I wish that I could take back the minute when was in too much of a hurry to expand my focus beyond one risk, so that I could see that there was another risk there too.
In Marin the other day, a woman was driving drunk. Her father committed suicide in February and, unsurprisingly, she hasn’t been handling his death well. She’s therefore been drowning her sorrows in alcohol. On this particular day, she ran over a pedestrian, causing him traumatic brain injury. He was taken off life support earlier this week.
A Facebook friend of mine is friends with the young man’s mother. This means that, when my friend comments on the mother’s feed, it shows up on my feed too. That is why I can tell you that it is almost unbearably painful seeing this woman’s laments for her only child. I know she thinks obsessively of the last time she saw him before his death, and wishes should could have one more minute, maybe a minute during which she could have sent him in a different direction entirely on that fateful day.
I’ve heard that the drunk driver is distraught too. She wanted to drown her own sorrows, not kill someone and create a whole new dynamic of sorrow. I bet she wishes she could take back that minute, whether when she drank one too many, or when she got behind the wheel of her car, or when she mowed down that happy, vital young man who lives on now only in the people who benefited from the organs his grieving mother donated.
I blogged a couple of years ago about slowing down to avoid some of those terrible one minute decisions from which there can be no do-over. I thought of that again today when I dropped the bowl and when I could not turn my eyes away from a woman’s unendurable grief over her child’s death. I won’t repeat that post here, but I do recommend reading it, simply as a reminder that it’s better to take a minute — to think about stacking dishes carefully, to double check before backing up, to drive without rushing — than to spend a lifetime regretting that wrong decision you might have taken in that minute. Cracking a melamine bowl is an irritant; destroying a life — God forbid! — is something we hope happens only from events beyond our control, not events that we might have controlled.
When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was a fairy tale book called The Lost Half Hour and Other Stories. It’s out of print now and my copy is boxed up, but I did find a website that retells the story. It’s a charming story if you wish to read it in its entirety but, if you don’t, the gist is that a princess was miffed that she’d overslept, exclaiming that she’d “lost a half hour.” When the fool Bobo heard that, he volunteered to find the half hour for her. Everyone laughed as he set out on his quest. Because Bobo was as kindhearted as he was foolish, he ended up agreeing to help several people on his way. Eventually, he gained wisdom, looks, wealth . . . and that lost half-hour. Moreover, when he returned to the Princess’s castle, he was able to use that lost half-hour to turn back time and rescue his true love from a dragon.
We can’t turn back time though. If we want to avoid a few minutes or a lifetime of remorse, the best that we can do is use our time wisely and try to think through the ramifications of our actions before we’re buried in regret.
Image credit: Broken Bowl by timlewisnm. Creative commons; some rights reserved.