I was talking to a colleague at work the other day, and we were discussing how I never feel able to get enough exercise in a day (my Apple Watch is always telling me to take a ‘brisk 20-minute walk’ at ten o’clock at night). He suggested I go for a walk on my lunch breaks, and I confessed that I used to to that almost daily, some years ago, and that I used to go on these walks with a good friend who passed away a few years ago.
It reminded me that, despite having moved on in my life, past daily sadness and grief, there are still those things that bring back old memories – for better or for worse. In fairness, if I were to go for walks on my lunch again, I would probably feel both glad and sad; sad that he’s no longer with us, and glad because it reminds me of the good times we used to have. We would talk, share feelings, and laugh and joke each time, and it always felt satisfying to share that time with someone close.
In this instance, I’m glad I was able to have this time with a close friend before they died. I think I have very few regrets about him, because I didn’t lose contact, I didn’t forget, and I didn’t walk away, even unintentionally, from that relationship.
There are others I feel worse about.
A while ago, I tried reaching out to an old friend and mentor from my youth, and received a strange auto-reply implying they would be unlikely to respond. It worried me, and for a time afterwards I fretted, wondering what might have been going on.
More recently, I discovered that this friend had undergone brain surgery, and that during the course of the operation something had gone wrong, leaving them almost completely incapacitated. For over 18 months, they’ve been struggling with recovery, their only communication being via family members posting on Twitter on their behalf.
Just today, I received a response to a message I had left back in September, sharing that they were, astonishingly, on the mend – albeit slowly. I wrote them a lengthy email – perhaps overlong, but I have trouble with conciseness – sharing some of my life, and wishing them well.
I can’t overstate how glad I am for this person to still be alive, considering not only what they meant to me, but also what they’ve been through over the last few years. And in the same way I was glad of my contact with my friend who passed away, I know I would have deeply, deeply regretted not staying in touch with this person had things gone worse than they did.
I’m a very out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of person, and it’s to my detriment, because it means that the people who I care most about – the people I cherish above all others – tend to be forgotten about as soon as I’m not around them every day. I also don’t generally make friends easily, which leaves me wondering if, as I get older, I might not feel terribly alone.
So the lesson for myself, here, is to not lose that contact. Don’t forget about the people who matter to you. Don’t leave those emails unanswered, and if you don’t hear from someone for a few months, reach back out. I say this because I think regret is one of the most difficult things there is to live with, and although life will always carry on regardless, a life filled with regrets is hardly a life at all.
You’ll never regret keeping in contact. You’ll only regret the chances you missed, and only when it’s too late.