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Kathy Bradley - Regret is the most painful emotion
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    Already the days are getting longer. The darkest days of winter are past and the sun is lingering on the horizon like a lover saying a reluctant good-bye.
    Yesterday afternoon I got home a little early. After reading the mail and starting a load of laundry, I took my book out to the front porch to absorb the tender luminance of sunset. I read the words, turned the pages, but my thoughts were divided — half of them inside the story, half of them dwelling on the telephone call that had come, a few hours earlier, so unexpectedly.
    "Are you by yourself?" Mama had asked in a voice that was clearly struggling against the rise of tears in her throat.
    From down the hall came the voices of my co-workers and the high-pitched drone of machines. Telephones were ringing, printers were humming like helicopters about to take off. The sounds of busyness. The sounds of distraction. The sounds of an ordinary day.
    Sounds that, with the question mark in my mother's voice, went silent. It was as though the mute button on some previously unknown remote control had been pressed by the finger of God.
    The news, of course, was not good. Our dear family friend, a man who grew up with Daddy and whose children grew up with me and Keith, had died. Suddenly. He and his wife had been trying for years to get Mama and Daddy to visit them in Florida. Had teased, cajoled, bribed. Had even pulled me into the fray by getting me to promise to drive them.
    But it hadn't happened. The last time we'd tried was in October, but corn had to be cut and a weather change was on the way and when the time came to go, I went by myself.
    "Why," Mama had whimpered, "do we put things off?"
    I watched the angle of the sun's light change, the shadows across the porch grow sharper. The rocking chair, arcing back in response to my push, forward in response to my letting go, eased my anxious heart into a gentle rhythm. The rush of feelings that had pounded me like the rising tide died down as the flow began its unavoidable and imperceptible turn.
    Why do we put things off? Why do we, as Stephen Covey puts it, elevate the urgent over the important?
    Regret may well be the most painful of emotions because it is self-inflicted. Grief and anger, joy and excitement, they all spring from points outside the self; regret has only one source. And because we expect more from ourselves than we would ever expect from anyone else, we refuse the only cure, medicine that we easily spoon out to others — a teaspoon of forgiveness, a dose of second chance.
    This is what I remember about Mr. John — that he always called Daddy "Cuz," that he never seemed to mind when we played touch football in the front yard and he got all the girls on his team and that he loved to tell stories, a characteristic that on its own was enough to make me love him.
    And I remember that the last time I was with him he told me how proud he was of me, something you never get too old to hear.
    I have tried to live my life without regret. I've not been completely successful. Fortunately, the people I have failed still love me and because of that I get the opportunity every day to show them how grateful I am for the second chance.
    That, as much as the love itself, may well be the greatest gift of all.
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