Friday, June 14, 2024

Insight: Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Last week I saw a list shared on social media that was compiled by a hospice nurse who spent her career dealing with individuals who were dying and later wrote a book about it. Knowing that their time on earth was dwindling, the dying passed on their regrets about their lives.

According to this nurse, the top five common regrets were not at all what she expected.

They included wishing they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, and not the life others expected of them by their family or friends. They also wished that they hadn’t spent so much of their lives working, wished they would have had the ability to truly express their feelings, wished they had kept in better touch with friends, and wished they had let themselves enjoy life more and be happier.

During a national study conducted in 2011, Americans were asked to describe a significant life regret, and the most common reported regrets involved romance (19.3 percent), family (16.9 percent), education (14 percent), career (13.8 percent), finances (9.9 percent), and parenting (9.0 percent).

It occurs to me that all the regrets mentioned above involve personal relationships and I can understand that.

As humans, we all share the common experience of living and interacting with others. Since taking our first breath, we all have been part of the routine of life, and everything associated with it. How we relate to others, however, is a choice, and so is how happily we live our lives. There are people we meet along the way that influence the decisions we make and shape our reactions and directly affect our happiness and lives.

By the time I was 15, I had already figured out what I wanted to do for a career but many adult figures in my life wanted to steer me to choices they felt were better for me. During sophomore English class, my teacher, Ruth Silverman, suggested I was a good writer and encouraged me to explore a career in journalism. Now 49 years into my newspaper career, I’ve never regretted that decision, but I do regret not being able to tell her what great advice it was.

She left the school for another teaching position after that school year, and I have no idea where she went. I’ve tried my best through the years to track her down and tell her about my life and career without success. I’ve asked the school system, former teachers at the school, and looked extensively online but have been unable to find her and probably never will.

For many years, I also regretted that I never had a chance to tell other teachers that helped me along the way how much I valued and appreciated them. However, I was able to tell my high school basketball coach Gene Monje that in 2006 and several years later, he invited me to give his introduction speech at the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Rochester, New York.

I also had a long-standing regret when I was younger about my high school music teacher Giles Hobin. His chorus class was transformational for me when I reached high school. From the first day, he treated me like an adult and inspired me to appreciate music. I wanted to thank him years later but didn’t know where he was.

In the spring of 2001, my classmate Janet Howland sent me a newspaper clipping of a Letter to the Editor he had written, and it listed his home address, which was the same as it had been for years. I sat down and wrote him a letter saying that unlike other students on the first day of college, I felt totally prepared because of teachers like him and was ready for the challenge. I mailed it to him and expected to hear back from him, but months passed without a response.

As I was getting ready to fly to Rochester to attend a wedding in late October 2001, Janet Howland emailed me to tell me that Giles Hobin had died. I was crushed and saddened that I would never have an opportunity to speak to him again. I was able to attend his funeral service with some of my classmates and as I went through a reception line meeting my teacher’s family, something remarkable happened.

As I shook his son Shawn’s hand in the reception line, he turned and told his mother who I was. She smiled and hugged me and said that she wanted to tell me something.

“Of course, Giles was thrilled to receive your letter,” she said. “It meant the world to him, and he kept it on his nightstand. He wanted to write you back but couldn’t because of his illness. I offered to write it for him, but he insisted that he would write you back, but he never got the chance to do so.”

The experience of being human means interacting with many different personalities to chart your own path in this world. I’ve made plenty of mistakes over time and have made many decisions I wish I could regret, but instead I’ve chosen to be happy and continue moving ahead.

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