In my last year of teaching in Trinidad I had a good student who asked me one day,
“Mr. Winsor, you have had such an interesting life and done so many things. Do you have any regrets?” And I replied easily, naturally,
“I regret everything.” And he smiled as if he understood and I also smiled as if I understood. We shared a moment that touched truth even if we were not able to grasp it.
The choices we make, the roads we travel, negate all the other possibilities which in retrospect might have been more fruitful. If we look at it that way our contemplation is full of regret. Regret is a taint on experience but not the only one. Even the best experiences, the bright moments, have a sense of foreboding or a sense of inchoate loss. Very rarely is experience complete without something negative hanging off it. Nothing lasts in this world. That is at the root; a sense of time passing, opportunity lost, and mortality itself waiting to end what we know and take away everything we ever had.
The existentialists- Camus, Sartre- felt the angst of existence, a panic sense of entrapment caused just by being in a body if for no other reason.
When I first started drawing at age twenty-eight during a spiritually energetic time, my first graphic expressions were of a prison cell, a metaphor for the restrictions the body places on the spirit. That is how I felt it.
Some people shake free, maybe by strength of character. I knew an old woman up in New Hampshire, tougher than a pine knot. Her name was Gert. She said,
“I don’t spend much time thinking about what could have been or should have been.” Surely this is a recipe for peace if one can accomplish it, either by receiving it as a gift or by making it a habit through force of will.
Maybe sensitivity makes the struggle more difficult….
From John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” 1819
“That I might drink and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despair,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow…..”