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May 31, 2024

A Line in the Sand: To Regret or Not to Regret, That Is the Question.

Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

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3rd Opinion: “I’d rather regret the things i’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”-Lucille Ball

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Courtney’s Opinion:Live life, regret what you did, not what you didn’t do!

I have a note in my phone titled, “All My Bad Decisions.” So yes, regrets, I’ve had a few … a few dozen. But of all those decisions that have affected the trajectory of my life, one far outweighs the cumulative effects of the others. 

And that one is something I didn’t do. I didn’t say the thing I should have said and then he was gone and now I will never have the chance. And that is my greatest regret. 

He has been on my mind daily since I heard the news last May. I knew him best as a professor and my “boss” at USCB, where I am an adjunct instructor in the communications department. He had a profound impact on me, his students, and all his colleagues. 

He was a mentor. A therapist. A coach. 

He was a constant and consistent voice of reason with a killer wit, a playful smirk, and a side eye that just made everything palatable and possible. The self-doubt as a college instructor can be overwhelming, but he put every situation in perspective – whether I was right or wrong.

Every time we talked, we said, “Let’s grab a drink” so we could say all the things we probably shouldn’t say on campus (or at least that was my plan). We never had that drink. 

If we had ever had that drink, I would have finally been able to tell him about our connection that, unbeknownst to him, went back three decades. I suspect we would have cried together, and our lives would have been more entwined. I’ll never know.

Allow me to back up just a bit. Years ago, when I met my firefighter husband, we were doing the obligatory getting to know you question and answer. I asked him to tell me about the worst thing he’d experienced as a first responder. He told me the story of arriving at a house on Hilton Head Island in 1993 where a little girl had been in a terrible accident. He described the moment the family realized her injuries were fatal. His eyes welled up with tears as he told me that all the firefighters on scene broke down that day. He told me that he attended that sweet little girl’s funeral and that he thinks about her and her family all the time. In fact, he still had the newspaper clipping and a letter from her family’s pastor in his top dresser drawer. (He still does to this day.) 

That little girl was the daughter of my mentor, my therapist, my coach. Ironically, as a writer and a communications instructor, I could never quite find the words to tell him. 

And then he was gone. And it was too late. 

Instead, I had to write those words in a note to his amazing wife. And now, here I sit with those words again. Still just as raw as they were on May 30, 2023, when I heard the news of his death and the regret set in. 

There is a gift here. He is still coaching me. It takes just one regret of something you didn’t do to teach you a lesson for a lifetime. 

Leave no words unsaid.  


Barry’s Opinion:I stand with Butthole Surfers #iykyk

It’s been said that it’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do. Of course, the people who said that were psychedelic punk band the Butthole Surfers in their 1987 song “Sweat Loaf.” But don’t let that detract from the fact that there’s some wisdom to it. 

I’m sure Courtney would agree with the Butthole Surfers on this one (most of the time, it’s hard not to). I’ve heard the story she’s planning on sharing with you in her half of this column, and it does raise a pretty compelling point. There are things in this life that you will always look back on and wonder “what if?”

And when Courtney first proposed that we argue over whether doing something or doing nothing is harder to regret, I really had to do a lot of navel gazing. Once I got all the lint out, I really started to think about what my biggest regrets might be. And I gotta tell you, I got nothing. I don’t really have a lot of regrets – not because I’m perfect, and certainly not because I’m that confident in myself. It’s because I just can’t bring myself to look at it that way.

It’s not that I haven’t done things that I look back on and feel bad about. On any given day, my idiot brain will drag up something patently idiotic that I said out loud to other people just so it can watch me wince with embarrassment. And yes, writing this column using words that never got around to forming that novel does give me pause. But that’s not really regret, is it?

Regret is when you did something (or didn’t do something) that you not only feel shame or embarrassment about, but that you wish you could go back and do differently. And that’s where I struggle with finding something I regret. Because I’d said and done some very idiotic and self-destructive things. Listing them all would require the single largest issue of this magazine ever published. It would be delivered to your mailbox via forklift.

But I can’t change any of it. And in a universe of infinite chaos, who knows if those dumb things I said or did kept something worse from happening. They may have even made life better for other people, using me as a cautionary example to improve themselves.

Daddy? Yes son, What does regret mean? Well son, the funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something that you haven’t done,” – Butthole Surfers Sweat Loaf Lyrics

I’ll give you one example of something I did that comes closest to filling me with actual regret. When I was a young pre-teen scumbag, my friend and I had season passes to a nearby waterpark. One day while we were there, we overheard this girl a few years younger than us telling one of the employees that her parents had dropped her off for the day to have fun on her own, giving her $20 in spending money that she kept in a water bottle. (Keep in mind, this was $20 in 1991 money, which is a small fortune at that age).

She told the employee this, set down the bottle containing all the money she possessed to have fun that day, then walked away. You can guess what two pre-teen scumbags did next. 

To this day, when I think about that poor girl walking back to find that money missing, I can almost feel the blood freeze in my veins. It’s a physical revulsion beyond shame.

But all I can do now is remember how that feeling has guided me in the years since. 

I feel that knot in my gut and it reminds me to be a better person, because being an awful person sucks. And I hope that somehow, in an infinitely chaotic universe, that little girl managed to still have a fun day despite what we did. I hope she was still able to trust people, knowing that preteen scumbags will always be there to take advantage of people. I hope, in some small way, that it made her stronger. Since I can’t hope for her forgiveness, I can only hope whatever pain I caused her didn’t linger too long. 

That sense of shame that regret engenders is important, but it’s really just the first step. What you do to move beyond the things you did (or, again, didn’t do) – that’s what really matters. 

Or to once again borrow a phrase from those legendary philosophers The Butthole Surfers, “A friend of mine had told me that there weren’t no point in mopin’. No, there weren’t no point at all.”  

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