Recently, I finished reading "The Midnight Library." The basic plot involves a woman who, after her death, lands in an infinitely large library that is somewhere between life and death. The shelves are lined with books that describe how her life might have unfolded if she had chosen different paths at different times. Also, the library contains a large book of regrets, those things in her life, both mundane and consequential, that she wishes had happened differently.
While I enjoyed the novel, this is not a review. Rather, it is a result of thoughts I had about retirement and the whole idea of the power of regrets in our life, and what might be a more useful focus.
Former President Carter once said, “You are only old when regrets take the place of dreams.” That simple sentence probably sums up the rather remarkable life of Mr. Carter. Since serving one term as the 39th president, this 96 year old humanitarian and intellectual spends every waking moment finding ways to stay active and help others. That quote is a philosophy of living, not just something he said during a speech at some point in his life.
Stimulated by both the book and Mr. Carter's quote, I was prompted to think about the place each of these concepts has in our life. Both are needed. Regrets will happen to any human being old enough to wish he or she had done something different. Dreams come to many of us while sleeping. But, there is another type of dream: that of what we wish will happen, plan and strive for, even set as a goal.
Self-reproach is one of the ways we grow as individuals. Without reflecting on what we have done, or not done, hurt or helped, chosen to say or do something that didn't end up the way we hoped, alienated someone after a careless comment or action...regrets come with the territory. They are how we help learn from our behavior.
In a healthy person, regret is a good thing, as long as it doesn't become a sticking point. If we worry about the regret where it becomes the defining point of a life or an on-going focus, we have a much harder time moving ahead.
So, how do dreams fit into this mix? Humans are the only species that has the capability to hope. That feeling of expectation of a change or something new is what keeps us looking forward. A dream can be thought of as a hope given a physical manifestation. I hope I will be healthy. I dream about bench-pressing 100 pounds as a goal that helps me fulfill the overall hope.
Many of us think of dreams in terms of goals. I dream about the day I will visit New Zealand. So, I develop a way of making that happen. I dream of how Betty and I will celebrate our 50th anniversary in about five years.
This brings me back to President Carter's belief that dreaming keeps us from being old in mind and spirit. Regrets happen when the very human side of us does something we would rather take back.
Dreams happen when the aspirational part of us takes hope and gives it wings.