At 18, I got a mega-dose of life. I was young, sure, but the old, bald guy sitting next to me on that bus ride had enough wisdom for both of us. He had a lot to say, and due to circumstances beyond my control, I had the time and patience to listen. A ten hour bus ride goes by quickly when you're sharing it with an interesting fellow.
I got to see life through the eyes of a man in his eighties. Dude... more than 20 years later, that bus ride is still on my mind.
My turbo tour of life started when I missed the bus I was supposed to be on. Actually, it was canceled. I was one of those guys who volunteered for everything. I had volunteered to be a "bus monitor" in college. I carried a clip board, checked students on and off the bus, and got some minimal training on what to do in case there was a problem with the bus along the way. In exchange, I got a free bus ticket to Long Island where my parents lived at the time. For some reason, the school cancelled the holiday bus, and I was left to find another way home. Sometimes, my friend, fate disguises our best opportunities as problems.
Anyway, I was at the Greyhound station. It was cold. Many years before The Celestine Prophecy was published, I was looking down at my backpack and struggling to open my mind to whatever this newest adventure would bring. I looked around and wondered why I was there. A mom struggled to keep her cool and calm her young daughter who was fidgeting in a chair across the isle. I hoped they wouldn't be on my bus.
The overhead speaker announced my bus number and hardly anyone got up. It looked like I was one of only a few people going to Long Island that day. Fortunately, mom and fidgety-ann stayed put.
I boarded the 66 person capacity bus. Maybe 20 people were on board. I did what everyone does: I scanned the bus for where I might sit. There were no good looking girls on board except for one chewing gum and looking stupid. Any one of the empty chairs looked more attractive than 10 hours next to her. Then I noticed the crown of a bald head sitting next to the window about 2/3rd of the way back. I made my decision.
Sitting next to an old guy like this might be interesting. Surely, the old guy has a story to tell. He looked nice enough (and clean, which is very important on long bus rides!) as I approached. It was a little awkward to sit next to him with so many empty seats around, but I sat down and introduced myself. The bus pulled away and our adventure had begun.
Somewhere in the first hour, I asked him the following question:
"I'm young. I'm looking forward to the rest of my life and it seems like I'm looking up over a tall bridge. I can't see what's up and over it. But you've lived your life. You can look back and see everything that's behind you. What's on that bridge? What kinds of things do I have to look forward to?
The proverbial flood gates opened. My new friend told me everything about his life. I was interested and he seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm for his stories.
Most of his friends and family were dead. He took this trip from Montreal to Florida every year as a snowbird. His wife was sitting in the back of the bus, consoling a friend who's husband had just died. I considered what it must be like to have lost most of the people on earth that I ever knew and loved, to have no living peer group.
His stories were fascinating to me. His school. His jobs. His loves. His adventures. When his story telling seemed to have run it's course, I asked him if he had any regrets. He thought for a minute and told me that he had two. He told me what they were, then he grew quiet and turned to look out the window. I watched him as he watched the yellow road stripes blink by. Neither of us said a word.
I made up my mind that day that I was going to do my best to avoid regrets in life. I saw myself becoming this old guy in 60 years (I am bald already incidentally, but by choice... sorta. ;)). When I take my bus ride at 80 and watch those lines blink by, I want to remember good things. I want to remember the happy times, the adventures, all the stuff I did with my life. I want to remember great loves and feel good about handing the baton on to the next generation. I don't want to have regrets.
From that day forward, I set out to not have any regrets. I took on life head on. I did all kinds of crazy things (maybe food for another post). As I got older, I learned that regret isn't something that can be completely avoided, simply because we're not always given a fair set of choices. No matter what we do, sometimes, doing things that are worthy of regret is unavoidable. That's life.
Fortunately, I also learned that regret is an emotional reaction to acting one way and wishing we hadn't. Since we basically manufacture regret through the way we process events in our lives, we can stop regret from entering our lives by simply processing things differently.