Regrets, I've Had Not a Few

Do you know how it is? You think back on a conversation; you wonder if you were unclear; you wish you could go back and clear it up.

So you’re going to have lunch with a couple of people. It’s a spontaneous thing; you’ve just arranged it. You run into a couple of other guys and you invite them to join you. One says he was just going home, that he wasn’t doing lunch. Everyone wishes everyone a safe drive. Afterwards, you wonder if he declined for financial reasons; you suspect that he has to be careful with his family’s budget. You wish you had said “It’s on me,” and that you had said it casually, invitingly. 

A student was reporting on her semester project. You are looking forward to this one; she has been a good student through the term, and you appreciate her work. Something she says at the beginning causes you to interrupt with an ironic comment. She doesn’t get it; she thinks you are laughing at her. You don’t see an easy way to take it back, but later that day you replay the scene again and again, wondering how you might have gracefully responded.

Your handicapped friend is walking slowly towards the car, and it’s a cold and windy day. You just go ahead, not explaining, wanting to get out of the wind and into the car sooner. Then you hear the thunk. Behind you, she has fallen and lies on the concrete, her glasses broken; she doesn’t move. Later in the emergency room, where you end up being for several hours, you ask again and again: “Why didn’t I stay beside her?”

Twenty-two years old, I invited my best friend from high school to move to Santa Fe and share an apartment with me. He moved some 500 miles to do so. And we had lived there hardly a week when I got engaged, and in four months I was married and left him alone. Regret over a sense of having abandoned him alone in a strange town haunted my mind for decades. I kept asking myself what could I have been thinking, but my actions seemed clear to me: marriage was such a joy that it blocked out everything else, including any sense of care for this friend.


Can God change the past? Can God go back in our time and fix the things we regret and yet are unable to fix ourselves?

A quarter century later, I googled my friend’s name and found him listed in the program for a community theater. When I wrote the theater, they sent my email to him, and the next summer Susan and I visited him and his wife. At some point in the day I tried to apologize, describing those years as I remembered them and sharing my regret for having abandoned him so abruptly. He smiled and said that I mis-remembered things; that it hadn’t been like that at all; that he had found a new life in Santa Fe, and met there his wife, and it had been so good and important to him that in fact he was grateful for my bringing him there.

Can you imagine my relief and my amazement at God’s working things out? I sometimes think that when I “face the final curtain”—when my regrets, which are not only a few, are clearly stated and seen in God’s eyes—that God will have run ahead of me and come up behind and will say, No, Victor, it wasn’t like that, there was much else going on.

Judgment is going to be a surprise. Grace is going to fall on our past as well as our future, please God.


Out & About. Sunday, March 5, I will be at Holy Trinity Church in Bonham, Tex., to celebrate the Eucharist, preach, and talk about grief and loss (withLosing Susan in the background). This lovely church lies between Dallas and Paris.

The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar is set for Sunday, March 19, on James Matthew Wilson’s The Strangeness of the Good, his most recent collection of poems that includes his quarantine diary (from the initial Covid period). The seminar meets at Incarnation in Dallas at 5 o’clock, and anyone who has read the book is welcome to join. (Others may come and listen.)

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: