March 3, 2009
To Regret or Not to Regret
OK. Here's my Chocolat dilemma. How do I manage to maintain my fleeting sense of relevance while writing a post about The Bachelor? That's right; I watched the ultimate guilty pleasure among the panoply of reality television. At least, I watched the very special episode, "After the Final Rose," which made my wife exceedingly happy, thank you very much. I share this with you not to invite the widespread ridicule that I fully expect to receive but to address what I think is a pressing problem in contemporary culture: a pandemic of life without regrets.
The Bachelor(TM), in case you don't read Us Weekly, dumped one woman on the season finale in favor of another, then--in the very special epilogue--dumped his chosen one for the woman he had previously dumped. He was appropriately contrite; I will grant him that. He acknowledged that both women had the right to be mad at him, and he admitted that what he was doing was awful, truly awful, particularly to the woman he had chosen, particularly because this rejection could have taken place off camera but instead was broadcast to millions. The only thing, really, that distinguished this very special episode of The Bachelor from every single episode of Jerry Springer is the absence of a live studio audience. Some extraterrestrial intelligent being, several light years from now, will catch "After the Final Rose" in its satellite dish and mutter, "What a jerk."
Nevertheless, the Bachelor(TM) said with great conviction that he has no regrets. Moreover, he said that the worst thing a person can do is to live with regrets. Just so we're clear: according to this logic, it's better to humiliate two women in front of millions of people than to wish that he hadn't.
I don't think the Bachelor(TM) has thought this worldview through. Participants in reality shows such as this one are often forced on the spot to offer philosophical rationale for decisions that were typically made with little philosophical reflection. They stammer and struggle until they find a rhythm of coolness, until they latch on to some proverb their life coach or their enabling grandparents or their childhood celebrity hero once told them: learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Or something like that. Then they get their confidence back and state with great conviction "I'm OK, You're OK"--or something like that.
I happen to think that it's good to regret things that are regrettable. If we are finite--if, as the priest tells us as he adorns our head with ashes at the beginning of Lent, we are but dust, and to dust we will return--then we simply cannot make decisions or take actions that are guaranteed to be right. We will, eventually, inevitably, be wrong. And if we are fallen--if, as the prophet Hosea tells us, we have broken our covenant with God in ways similar to Adam's original breach of the covenant--then we have wronged more than one another. In a cosmic sense, we have offended the universe and its Creator. That sounds like something that merits a little regret.
Regret is a concept foreign to a culture of achievement. Regret kills momentum and creates self-doubt, both of which are sins against the push to excel. The only thing to regret, according to the culture of achievement, is regret itself. Regret is the tortoise, and we are the hares. The only thing is, the tortoise always catches up to us, and then we have to deal with it.
Lent deals with regret in a different way from the Bachelor(TM). Where the Bachelor(TM) eschews regret, burying it and denying it ever existed, Lent gives it time and space, an atmosphere to do the formative work that regret can do: regret can mature us if we let it.
Regret can also destroy us if we let it, which is likely the great fear of the Bachelor(TM) and all his ilk. Thank God that our regrets are taken to the cross with Christ, where he puts them to death and then rises again to lead us forward--into maturity, into health, into wholeness, into newness of life. We worry that regret will end us, but in truth regret will end, and by God's grace we will go on. Or something like that.