I am an old lady trapped in a young woman’s body, and because of this, I like old music. In particular, I like French chansons and I especially like Edith Piaf.
Correction, I adore Edith Piaf. I’ve been to visit her grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and my standard answer to that staple question of entertainment reporters and awkward first dates everywhere (If you could have dinner with any celebrity, dead or alive, who would it be?), is Edith Piaf.
The most magnificent, heart-rending song she sang has got to be “Je ne Regrette Rien.” It’s a powerful, moving piece of music that you instinctively grasp, even if you don’t understand a word of French.
She did do an English version of the song though, and one stanza goes like this:
No, no regrets
No, I will have no regrets
All the things
That went wrong
For at last I have learned to be strong
A beautiful sentiment, no? Also one that we continually find in popular culture quotes and self-help books today: There are no mistakes, only lessons. No regrets.
It’s an attitude to life that I am still very much trying to cultivate. I do have regrets, of course. Would I like to be able to look back at mistakes I’ve made and go: “You know what, looking back now, I wouldn’t change a thing because I learned so much from that experience.” Sure. But I’m far from it, and to be honest, there’s a part of me that wonders whether approaching mistakes and regrets in this way is really useful at all.
Regrets are horrible to live with, but the prospect of living a life filled with them can also be a powerful incentive to change. And the sad truth is that people do reach the end of their lives and have regrets. Last year, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware published a list of “Top 5 regrets of the dying”, compiled from interviews she had with patients. The most common regrets of people who had reached the end of their lives were: Not being true to themselves, working too hard, not expressing their feelings, not staying in touch with friends, and not giving themselves permission to be happy.
Reading through this list can feel pretty depressing. But what I noticed is how many of these regrets are actually relatively easy to avoid: Call up that friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Take a day off work and spend it with your family.
Being true to yourself is much harder to do. I think that many of us hide our true selves, and have been for a while (it’s called growing up, isn’t it?). And naturally that is something to regret. But I’m looking at it this way: I can’t go back and change the things I already regret. I do know, however, which five things I want to avoid regretting at the end of my life. And that’s something I still have control over.
So here’s to regrets: Making peace with the old ones, and avoiding any new ones. I hope for everyone that, at the end, when someone asks us if we have any regrets, we can truly say, “Je ne regrette rien. I have no regrets.”