Why I Don’t Court Regret: A Valentine’s Day Post
By Crystal Hurd
“In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others” – Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”
This month at All Nine we are celebrating Clio, the muse of history. While I pondered what I should write this month, I thought of my own history, of the moments where I reflect and smile, and the moments I ominously recall and cringe.
The truth is that life is a blend of both. As I get older, I tend to reflect on the times where I made poor choices. I was young, stupid, arrogant – a bad combination to be sure. But at the time, I really felt that I was surely doing “the right thing.” I’m insufferably stubborn, which is at times a strength, and at other times a crippling weakness. When I married my husband shortly before my 21st birthday, I had to continually justify my decision to people who were worried that I was rushing in to the relationship. At 20, I had life figured out. That 100-level psychology class I took in college made all of the world’s problems abundantly clear and easily fixable. Besides, I was much smarter than all those old fogies with experience…
Hang on, I’m laughing at my ignorance.
The marriage worked out just fine and we are still going strong sixteen years later, but I have not always landed on my feet. I slowly discovered that wisdom is a gift, and there are lots of wonderful, wise people who are happy to bestow you with their knowledge. I’ve seen people scoff at this, but only to their detriment. Accept the wisdom and incorporate it, make it your own. Experience is a brutal teacher, but as long as one finds instructional value in that experience, then it was not a waste. This is what I adore about fiction: fiction is fabricated, but performs an echo of reality. Fiction dismantles the barrier between what is real and what is manufactured and teaches us lessons that are applicable in the real world. I avoided many adolescent potholes courtesy of Biblical instruction. As I matured and started college, I found infinite wisdom in teachers such as James Joyce, Frederick Douglass, Kate Chopin, and finally C.S. Lewis. All of them taught me successful ways of coping with life. When I look back, I see what I have done wrong, BUT I also uncover moments when I made good decisions as well, decisions which often don’t arouse concern because they didn’t cause any negative disruption to my life.
In Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths,” the great-grandson of Ts’ui Pen, a leader turned author who spent thirteen years creating a maze called The Garden of Forking Paths, is running from his death and meanwhile meets a man who has been studying his great-grandfather’s complex work for many years. The man claims to have untangled the “maze”; what was perceived as a physical maze turns out to be a metaphorical one, a book which accepts the existence of all paths:
The Garden of Forking Paths was the chaotic novel itself. The phrase ‘to various future times, but not to all’ suggested the image of bifurcating in time, not in space. Rereading the whole work confirmed this theory. In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pen, he chooses – simultaneously – all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. This is the cause of the contradictions in the novel” (97-98)
Perhaps one of the greatest motivations of our hesitancy in making life decisions is the nagging question: “Is this the right thing to do?” When we discover that we made a wrong decision, that we have in turn hurt a great many people with our actions, it is heart-wrenching. It may require years of work to till the unfertile soil of reconciliation and achieve healing, but what a learning experience it can be (!!). We often feed the incessant impulse to “glance backwards” at our past and exhume from the graves of memory our deepest and most devastating wounds. But this, as Ts’ui Pen shows us, is a never-ending maze. It does not promote progression, but encourages us to remain locked in a labyrinth of doubt and regret. When we oscillate between the many paths we should have taken, when we are haunted by the various ghosts of old decisions, we remain at a distant crossroads.
When we choose a path, we are (by default) “unchoosing” the other. At times, we celebrate our triumphs at the correct choices or mourn the wrong one (didn’t Robert Frost contemplate this?). But there is no going back. We selected a specific path and it may or may not have awarded us the desired result, but we cannot simply marinate in our despair. Unlike Ts’ui Pen, we cannot entertain all choices; we MUST choose one and accept where it leads us. Armed with wisdom, I have learned to move boldly through my life and approach each pair of crossroads with experience and optimism. By doing so, I am no longer encumbered by the regret of former decisions. The turbulent moments in my history, which have added darkness but also texture to the canvas of my life, are ones that I accept and embrace with a renewed hope. Learning to love your scars is most definitely liberating.
 Borges, Jorge Luis, Jorge Luis Borges, Anthony Kerrigan, Alastair Reid, Anthony Bonner, Helen Temple, and Ruthven Todd. Ficciones. New York: Grove, 1962. Print.