Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Regret

Forgiveness does not excuse a person from having done wrong, nor is it a gift of redemption one gives to someone else. Forgiveness is not extended to another person for the other person’s benefit. It is a gift to oneself to achieve a measure of peace. That’s a lesson I’ve taken the better part of sixty-five years to learn. And I’m still learning it, still trying to internalize it so it becomes second  nature. Though not truly a resolution, I decided a few days ago that I would begin 2019 by forgiving all the wrongs, real or imagined, done to me or to my sensibilities. That includes forgiving even myself for what I’ve done to myself and to others. I can’t “fix” all the damage, but I can make an effort to avoid creating more. At the moment, perhaps one of the most difficult things I’m finding to forgive is what I did to myself and to my wife by smoking for so many years. All I can do is to my damnedest to overcome the consequences. And I can be grateful I stopped smoking when I did; things could have been worse. Interesting, forgiveness and gratitude seem intertwined for some reason. I see that as a positive. But with forgiveness, especially forgiveness extended to oneself, there’s another sense that’s extremely hard to overcome and that interferes with forgiveness. That sense is regret. I regret having been a smoker. And the harm caused by smoking is hard to forgive. Yet the fact that there’s nothing I can do to change the past, and the need to achieve some measure of peace in spite of it, leaves me no choice but to try to forgive myself. The reality is that I can’t “unsmoke” all those cigarettes I smoked, so I can’t “make it right.” The alternative to forgiving myself and to letting the regret slip away is to permit myself to suffer for past mistakes that I’ve long since corrected. If I hadn’t corrected them, the story might be different. But I did. So…so…so what? Perhaps the lesson is that regret is impossible to dissolve with forgiveness, but it can be minimized by paying a price. And that price is forgiveness.

The next lesson, perhaps, is how can one be forgiven by others? The answer is straightforward. One can be forgiven by others only when they are ready to give themselves that gift. I think I’m writing in circles. I know I’m thinking in circles. I sound like I’m thinking in clichés. But these subjects and the aphorisms that arise around them (and cling to them like barnacles to a sunken ship’s hull, to use an odd, out of place simile) intrigue me and help shape the way I think.

When I think of the things I’ve regretted doing, or not doing, I realize I’ve created a very, very long list over the course of my sixty-five years. The process of minimizing the sense of regret for all those acts and omissions will involve enormous volumes of self-forgiveness, the capacity for which I seriously doubt I have. I suppose a place to start may be with the “big” things, the stuff that caused the most hurt. Even the formidable task of whittling the list down in such a way overwhelms me. From what I’ve written, one might get the idea that I feel like I’m a pretty miserable human being, having done so much harm and having so much to regret; yes and no. I don’t feel that I’ve engaged in significantly more or less hurtful acts or omissions than the average person, but I think I may tend to be more conscious of them. Or maybe not. I don’t know what other people think. I only know I don’t see as much evidence of regret in others as I feel in myself. Others may feel the same. But I have, for much of my life, tended to document (not necessarily publicly) things I’ve done or said about which I regret. I haven’t seen so much in others. Yet they, too, simply may not share their most private thoughts with the world at large. Reading my blog, one might assume I share ALL of mine; I don’t.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Regret

  1. bev wigney says:

    When I used to do volunteer stuff like updating medication and chemo info on and participate on the forum there, I occasionally read posts by parents who had just had a teenager (non-smoker from non-smoking family) diagnosed with NSCLC. How to explain that? I truly don’t know. I saw a lot of people on that forum and many were non-smokers – really fit younger people – joggers – didn’t work in industrial jobs — which it is possible was a cause of cancer in my husband – also that a sod farm started to operate across the road from our farm and they spray nursery sod very heavily with both herbicides and insecticides. However, Don’s father’s brother died from cancer in his 50s and although it probably wasn’t properly diagnosed, I suspect from how his children described the illness, it was NSCLC. That family was usually very long-lived – into their 90s and a couple beyond 100. Baptists who didn’t smoke or drink. Just a little text snipped from — this is what I mean about it being prevalent in many non-smokers. That’s not to be dismissive that smoking can be a factor, but there is more to it than that — and Don had adenocarcinoma. I stopped thinking about “cause” a long time ago as it tended to make me feel sort of angry about his work environment and the sod farm that set up operations across the road from us about 12 years before Don became ill. Now, I suspect it’s the typical crapshoot of all cancers.

    Adenocarcinoma: About 40% of lung cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers start in early versions of the cells that would normally secrete substances such as mucus.

    This type of lung cancer occurs mainly in current or former smokers, but it is also the most common type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers. It is more common in women than in men, and it is more likely to occur in younger people than other types of lung cancer.

    Adenocarcinoma is usually found in outer parts of the lung. Though it tends to grow slower than other types of lung cancer and is more likely to be found before it has spread, this varies from patient to patient.

  2. Interesting, Bev. Yes, my diagnosis is NSCLC. The specific is adenocarcinoma. My docs have said adenocarcinoma is almost exclusively limited to smokers. I wonder if that’s really true? Regardless, I did smoke for a long time, so I don’t doubt that my smoking was largely responsible. However, I wonder about the causation for NSCLC in someone like Don, who never smoked and was never around a lot of smoke. Did you ever find any reliable information that might suggest the cause in someone like him, who never smoked? And I wonder if adenocarcinoma is just one of many types of NSCLC. I’ll have to explore that; I guess I’ve limited my exploration to that bit of information that directly impacted me.

  3. bev wigney says:

    This is just a technical sort of a comment. I believe you have mentioned that you were diagnosed with NSCLC – and your treatment plan is certainly in line with that. NSCLC happens to a lot of never-smokers such as my husband. It is now found to be happening to young people who haven’t been around second hand smoke. SCLC tends to happen mainly to smokers. If you have been diagnosed with NSCLC, chances are that you might have gotten it regardless of your history of smoking. Although this is rarely ever stated by doctors or anyone else, that is what I have found in most of my reading on LC. I can’t tell you how many times my husband was asked how long he smoked – even by doctors who seemed incredulous that he was a never-smoker raised in an absolutely non-smoking family. It was only after I started to do more research on LC and knew more about it that I discovered that many diagnosed with it have had very little exposure to cigarette smoke — in fact, a very large percentage have had almost no exposure. Yet another one of those weird mysteries of cancer. Anyhow, just wanted to toss that piece of info out to you. It might help you to realize that there are often larger forces that play with our destiny than our own actions (or inactions).

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