Many, many years ago, on a hitch-hiking trip to France, exchanging stories in a youth hostel, I met a girl who told me she had been given a lift by a man in a Maserati. He had offered to let her drive, if she took off all her clothes. I couldn’t bring myself to ask, and to this day I don’t know if she got to drive the Maserati.
Last week, I was reminded of this incident. There was a small problem in the sauna at my local health club; the light had burnt out and I was forced to sit in darkness. I was alone, I had no smart phone, no TV, not even a newspaper. I was forced to do something that has become a rarity in our gadget-filled lives, yes, I had nothing to do but think.
I would like to tell you that I thought about the current state of affairs in Israel, the Middle East, the world, but, in fact, I found myself looking back on my life with a deep sense of regret. Now, as I’m sure you know, in the late 1990s regret was defined by psychologists as a “negative emotion predicated on an upward, self-focused, counterfactual inference.”
A more useful definition of regret comes from the dictionary “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done”. This came much closer to describing my feelings than “self-focused, counterfactual inference.”
As the temperature in the sauna rose, I tried to remember some of the incidents that were causing me this distress. What terrible things had I done that needed my repentance? Suddenly, it came to me – I hadn’t asked the girl if she had driven the Maserati. Every single incident that I truly regretted involved something that I hadn’t done, something I hadn’t said, something I hadn’t bought, somewhere I hadn’t been. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done that was a cause for regret.
The light came on and I left the sauna singing to myself Edith Piaf’s immortal words – Non, je ne regrette rien!
But, as my finger hovered over the “Publish” button, a final thought hit me – will I, in years to come, regret writing this piece?