To live is to fail and even to hurt other people—especially the ones you care about, love singularly.
If existential philosophy taught me anything—or to be more accurate, if I recognized in existential philosophy a Truth also in my bones—it has been that our passions are our sufferings; they are inseparable.
To care is to hurt—both as the agent of inflicting hurt and as the recipient of the feelings of being hurt.
But this exploration of regret is not about these tremendous failures, these regrets that are many for me that have been how I have hurt the ones I love.
This is about regret more mundane although no less significant.
My teenaged years of typical angst and self-consciousness were intensified by discovering over the summer between my 8th and 9th grade years that I had scoliosis, resulting in my being fitted for and then wearing throughout the next four years a very visible and restrictive body brace designed to allow my spine to heal itself so that I could avoid very invasive back surgery.
My parents almost immediately began to seek ways to help me navigate this traumatic experience during what were formative, and difficult years. One strategy included my becoming a collector of comic books.
Comic books became my escape, but in an unpredictable way, since I often stood at the end of our bar separating the kitchen and the living room in order to trace and then draw from the comics. Standing, because the brace encased my entire pelvis and anchored my head with three metal rods, was my new state of rest.
For years, I taught myself how to draw superhero comics. I even still have this work from the late 1970s, such as these:
By college, I had drifted to drawing mostly nudes, typically from magazines young men are apt to hide in their bedrooms. But throughout these years, I was teaching myself, and more or less, fumbling through without the sort of foundations in art that I really needed.
I think I had a proclivity, but one never nurtured.
When friends in college discovered I could draw, I was “commissioned” to draw nudes (often), and then after they saw the album covers I had painted on our dorm cinder-block walls, rooms throughout the dorm had similar purposeful graffiti.
It didn’t happen this way, but it feels as if it did. Life is always more gradual, but in our recreations we love the definitive.
At the end of my sophomore year of college, we discovered everyone with my album cover paintings on their walls were going to be fined by housing—so we spray painted over these frantically in the final days of the semester.
And this was the end of my life as a visual artist.
Becoming an adult, a responsible adult, took over. I had to have a career, and I had to get married, have a job, and do life as everyone expected.
Therein lies the regret—but not that I did any of that since setting out dutifully to be an adult has resulted in my daughter and granddaughter as well as a wonderful dual career as teacher/writer that I could have never predicted—and would never relinquish if I could start over.
The regret is becoming so entrapped in the practical—I dropped pursuing visual art because it wasn’t going to be my career—that I lost part of myself, parts of myself.
My visual artist life is now indirect; I follow artists on Instagram, and I covet their work and their lives.
I lust, I long, I pine.
So my regret of a mundane kind—paling still to the regrets of hurting others—is that I allowed the frantic Siren’s call to become the adult expected of me drown out my own voice, my own coming to recognize who I am, instead of who I should be.
Albert Camus reimagines “The Myth of Sisyphus,” explaining, “His rock is his thing.”
Camus guides his readers to Sisyphus pausing at his task, his seemingly futile hell of rolling the rock up the mountain only to have it roll back down for him to push up again, and again, and again.
Yet, as Camus concludes:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Regret of the kind that is not from hurting another is our inability, our refusal to recognize our thing—and then to embrace it as our happiness.
Our thing includes “the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth,” suffering, but it is not ours to seek ways to avoid human suffering, but like Sisyphus, to commit to it with all our body and heart.