I do not believe in regret. We live our lives. We make decisions. We must live with the decisions we make because we cannot travel back in time to make amends for bad behavior or mulligan immoral responses to moral conditions.
There is, however, one moment in my life 15 years ago — still perfectly preserved in images and sounds and smells as if it were happening right now — that lingers on the “what if” level where regret is born and bred.
I was flying back to New York from Lincoln, Nebraska and across the aisle from me in the airplane — she was in a window seat and so was I — was a waifish young woman with blazing red hair.
She was staring out the window as the plane left the earth and she was sobbing without making a single sound.
An infant no older than two months rested on her lap and looked up at her from its back. She swayed her head back-and-forth from window to baby.
I watched her uncontrollable, and probably inconsolable, sobbing for 15 minutes before I turned away to give her the privacy we’re taught in the Midwest to provide the forsaken and the heartbroken in their times of need.
I think I was the only one on the packed plane of Nebraskans that cared to notice her.
Mass transportation doesn’t bring us together longer — it only serves to separate us from each other faster.
The traditional family core of two generations ago included the extended family and every generation shared the same space under the same roof.
That family tradition is no longer viable in a world that requires removal from the birthplace to find far off success in far away geographies.
I often think back on that day in quiet times.
The young woman appears before me again — blood-red hair brilliantly bouncing against the sun while tears from glistening, emerald, eyes, dripped from porcelain cheeks — and I wonder what might have happened if I had just been brave enough to find a way to break through the Midwestern coldness of minding your own business to ask her if she was okay instead of just filing away from her with the rest of the passengers into LaGuardia terminal to return to the arms of my waiting family.