It has become such a trite phrase, an excuse for bad tattoos and wild partying. But what does it mean beyond those trivialities, beyond the shallowness of YOLO culture? What does it mean to truly live a regret-free life?
It means forgiving.
It means forgiving the past for taking you to this present. It means forgiving yourself for not understanding what was happening at the time, for not clinging to those final moments with tooth and nail. It means forgiving those who may have hastened that end through their carelessness or the flaws in a broken system. It means forgiving every person their lack of omniscience – yet especially yourself. It means forgiving yourself for the things you did and the things you did not do and how that closed all the doors on every possible future but one.
And it means accepting.
It means accepting that you can neither change the past nor predict how it will affect the future. It means accepting that we are only human and that we all make mistakes, every one of us every day, and nothing can change that either. It means accepting endings and embracing beginnings, always. It means accepting a new normal. It means accepting that new normals are not inherently bad, only different.
And it means being able to one day look upon a gravestone without flinching. It means knowing in your heart you did all you could and continue to do all you can. It is not an easy philosophy. It is not a philosophy of misspelled tattoos and drunken selfies. It is a philosophy of hope tempered with the weight of experience. It is a constant striving to do what you think is right in the moment and a constant forgiving of yourself and others once the moment has passed. It is closing the door on the past, yet never locking it.
This is how I think it went down. After Anubis finished weighing my father’s heart on Ma’at’s grand scales – lighter than any feather, magic or otherwise, of course – he was met by Wepwawet to guide him through the underworld. Along the way they got to talking, bonding over a mutual appreciation for travel in all its forms by land, by air, and by sea. It is rare to meet another as knowledgeable as yourself in the more obscure aspects of your passion and they became fast friends.They probably shared about the classic cars they had owned and old motorcycles that had carried them faithfully down hot roads beneath a desert sun. Maybe they discussed the aircraft and ships which had shaped the course of human warfare or reminisced about the modes of travel long outdated by technological evolution.
(This is where the story gets hard for me to write. I keep deleting it. Ignoring it. Pretending I can’t see the scene so clearly. I can, though. And I want to tell it, I do, but it’s like my hands just… stop working. Revert back to heavy, lifeless clay. Not this time, though. Come on, just get it out!)
At the threshold to the Field of Reeds my father asked a favor from Wepwawet. He had left behind a teenage daughter, you see, and he worried for her safety. She wasn’t a very good driver, for one, and was often scatterbrained or easily distracted. Would Wepwawet look out for her as she moved through the world, just to make sure she got home each night in one piece? He gave my name and Wepwawet must have smiled, maybe even said something like, “She’s already known to us,” and assured my father He would keep an eye on me. And He has ever since, though He’s probably had to save my butt more times than I can count and I’m sure it’s a stressful promise to keep. But they’re kindred souls, I can feel it, and every time I feel Wepwawet’s presence I feel my father’s as well and know I am doubly blessed.
[ Hey, I added a “dad stuff” tag if anyone’s interested ]
My mother and I share a lot of private memories, things for which only we were present – the time we got locked in a dark sauna and I was thoroughly convinced we were going to die; the time we accidentally ordered so much food at a Chinese restaurant that it was like the chocolate factory conveyor belt scene from I Love Lucy; the time our car was nearly hit by lightning during a tornado warning and we rode out the storm in a little diner in the middle of nowhere; all the times we sat talking over dinner or laughing at stupid reality TV. We share countless private memories between us, both mundane and magical, silly and serious, yet there is a specific shared memory which binds us beyond mother and daughter – a memory I have barely touched in the last eleven years.
I was fresh out of my first year of college, just eighteen years old, and my parents and I were on vacation in northern California. We had driven to the ranger station at the top of Mt. Lassen, a ride during which my mother had kept her eyes squeezed shut for fear of the steep cliff-side just feet from the car. She hated heights, hated seeing the tops of trees passing by below as the car wove its way up the steep, winding path, and probably didn’t trust her own driving skills enough to risk the attempt anyway. On the way down, though, she had to take the wheel and remain calm for us both while my father sat stunned in the front seat by an inexplicably painful and disorienting headache. We didn’t know why the headache struck so suddenly or with such force, only that he needed medical assistance – and so my mother faced her lifelong fear to get us all to safety. I knew she was on the edge of panic that whole drive down and yet she reined in her fear to keep her teenage daughter, who had never seen her beloved father so vulnerable, from panicking too. Thanks to her we made it safely back to the tiny town at the base of the mountain and hurried to the local hospital. If my father was cogent enough to commend my mother for her bravery at the time, I don’t remember… and at this point it’s only she and I who remain to tell the tale.
My mother is made of steel and I could provide a hundred examples of her strength just off the top of my head; anyone who knows her could. She fights for her family, for her friends, and for her community and has always set a positive example for everyone around her. However, I’m the only one who can offer up this particular memory as proof of her unyielding bravery. A check for a million dollars couldn’t have convinced my mother to make that stressful drive back to civilization on her own and yet she did. For my father, mysteriously sick, she did. For me, young and terrified, she did. Maybe if we had known what the upcoming days would ask of us she would have quailed at this first test, but all I remember is her determination in the face of the frightening unknown.
I talk a lot about the ways in which I’m like my father because I’m proud to carry them on in his name and make him present in every moment with me. However, what I should say more often is how much I hope I am like my mother. How I hope I have inherited her courage, strength, and conviction. How I hope I may act quickly and calmly to protect my little family when emergencies strike. How I hope I may so bravely face down any and all of my fears to do what is right for those I love. Anyone can tell you my mother is a little blond spitfire who doesn’t back down from a challenge, yet only I can tell you about the time I saw her at her bravest. It’s not a happy memory to share between us, nor are any of the other memories from the week that followed, but it remains preserved and clarified in my mind as testament to the strength for which I want always to strive.
“You Would Have Been 70”
In 2007, I missed telling you about my history classes.
In 2008, I missed you helping me buy gear for my fieldwork on Mount Rainier.
In 2009, I missed showing you the rock samples I collected in New Mexico.
In 2010, I missed seeing you at my college graduation.
In 2011, I missed introducing you to my new favorite band.
In 2012, I missed hiking in Yosemite with you.
In 2013, I missed introducing you to my girlfriend.
In 2014, I missed you helping me move into my first official apartment.
In 2015, I missed discussing Ray Bradbury with you.
In 2016, I missed showing you my engagement ring.
In 2017, I will miss you walking me down the aisle.