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.


  1. If you had said something to her would that have made it worse for her? Would you have embarrassed her based on her upbringing?

  2. That’s a good point, Anne. It might have been an embarrassment to her — but the open weeping “really isn’t done” in the Midwest because you’re “showing off” — so there was something obviously broken in her that let her remove the cultural ties binding her behavior.

  3. Yeah, I probably should’ve, Anne. If I’d been sitting next to her, I certainly would have said something, but since we were on opposite sides of the plane with four people between us, it wasn’t possible during the flight without calling attention to her in a bad way. Sidling up to her after the flight might’ve creeped her out a bit… the approach would have been all-important so as not to scare her or embarrass her.

  4. Hi David,
    First, thanks for posting the article. I admire your courage of being so open about regretting something.
    I think you surely would have said something to comfort the lady if you were beside her.
    “Leaving someone alone” probably comes from us wanting to be left alone and free from trouble or fear of rejection, apart from the concept of giving someone their time to heal.
    I think, in the modern era, we learn to rationalize and also compartmentalize our bad behavior from our better qualities in such a way that our own misdeeds do not diminish our own opinion about selves.
    But my experience says if we can overcome our initial reluctance to break through to extend our helping hand – it helps both.

  5. Oh, what a wonderful and smart and warm comment, Katha, and you’re 100% right on all counts as usual. You’re right that we try to protect ourselves from our own bad decisions and none of us are immune from tumbling down the wrong path. Our only hope is we don’t pull somebody down with us.
    I really do try to live a regret-free life — because there’s no use stewing over a decision that has already been made and implemented — but that doesn’t mean the ghosts from your past won’t hunt you down to haunt you in the quiet moments.

  6. Hi David,
    “To err is human” and to “acknowledge” it makes us more human.
    The best way is to follow one’s gut because it always speaks the truth.
    Leading a regret-free life is very subjective David, I am glad you accept it. The moment we learn to take our own decision in life something or someone is affected someway – always.

  7. You’re right that every decision we make has aftershocks, Katha. You can always go back and learn from your past decisions and rethink why they failed or found success — but to live in regret is to punish yourself for a past that cannot be changed.

  8. Life has its own way of answering David, it always does – we just take some time to interpret it…

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