Rheve 2015:  Struggling in order to grow.

Rabbi Arturo Kalfus

A man attending the Superbowl looked down and realized that he was actually sitting next to an empty seat.

Incredulously, he asked the man sitting on the other side of the seat, how it was possible to have an empty seat when they were being scalped at a thousand bucks a shot? The man answered that the seat belonged to his late wife. Well, the man extended his sympathies and said: ”Gee, I would have thought a relative or friend would have jumped at the opportunity to use that seat”.

The man replied: ”I would have thought so too, but they all insisted on going to the funeral!”

Do our compulsions make us have later regrets? By missing important events, have we made others so angry, that they have cut ties with us?

Dear Granddad,

Whenever I think of you, all I can remember is that awful moment on the hill, on what would be one of the last summers I saw you. I was a petulant, angry teen and just wanted to have my own way all of the time. You were a man, in less than perfect health, who just wanted to enjoy a life that hadn’t always been easy. You told me, that you would do anything you could for me.

I wish I would have told you how much you meant to me. I love you. I’ve never been the same without you, and I wish I would have talked to you more and found out more about your history.

Do we have regrets about how we have treated family members? Have we missed opportunities?

Regrets of love lost: I have experienced a true love. A soulmate.

I have many regrets. You are my biggest. I thought I was being so clever by not “settling early”… instead I have now lost the biggest love of my life. You were my world and my future. Now almost 10 years later… you are married, have opened a successful restaurant, and I probably never cross your mind.

Do we have love regrets?

These stories are about losses and regrets. And who, among us, does not have stories like these? I could have chosen the other profession. I should have embraced that opportunity at work. I could have been more loving with my children. I should have taken the other fork in the road.

There is a study published in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science” on troubling regrets people have. So what are the regrets of the typical American? Love tops the list. Women, who tend to value social relationships more than men, have more regrets about romance. Conversely, men, were more likely to have work related regrets (career, education). Americans have regrets about family, education, career, finance, parenting, health, friends. The list goes on and on.

Professor Neal Roese says, “Obsessing or ruminating over regrets can also lead to depression and anxiety as you kick yourself over and over”. But who wants to kick ourselves over and over? It is strange how we can get so offended and angry when other people hurt us and yet repeatedly, we choose to torture ourselves, just rehashing our regrets. Stewing over them without doing anything about them.

Twenty years ago I should have decided to change careers. I have been trapped since then. It is too late now. Ten years ago I should have made efforts to keep my college friendships. Now, they are all gone from my life. Two years ago, when we knew that my brother or sister was terminally diagnosed, I should have visited more. We all can add other regrets.

We can live a quite sad life with a lot of regrets which we have accumulated and have done nothing about them. Or we can confront these regrets and inspire us to change and pursue better choices in the future. The Hebrew term for regret is “Charatah” which comes from the root to engrave. All our regrets are engraved on our souls, even though we might not want to confront them very often. We shlepp these regrets and they affect us daily.

I invite you tonight to confront the most important regret that you have. I invite you to open your heart and ask: What is the most important regret in my life? And I invite you to confront what has been engraved in your soul and find a positive lesson, find a different and better future and emerge with better wisdom.

Henry Thoreau said: “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh”.

Steve Jobs, the head of Apple computers, after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, gave a moving commencement speech in 2005 to Stanford University students. Paraphrasing a Jewish Midrash he said: “If you live each day as if it were your last someday you’ll most certainly be right”. It made an impression on me, and since then, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs continues: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything, all external expectation, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Definitely, Steve Jobs wanted to avoid regrets.

For those of us who are thinking that we have plenty of time… that it is too intense to live today as if I am going to die, think again. The memorial list that I am going to read just before Yizkor on Yom Kippur is a list of loved ones who never thought, that this past year was going to be their last one. Most of us, we will never now. So, pull the one regret you have to consciousness, bring it to the front of your mind, and decide today to address it and learn from it. You may not have another chance.

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben said: “So if you knew that this was your last day on earth, if you knew that this was your last week to live, if you knew this was your last year to live- wouldn’t you reconcile with an estranged family member or friend? Wouldn’t you let go of your hurts or insults of the past? Wouldn’t you put aside all those petty arguments and disagreements with the people you love?”

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent many years working in palliative care. She would take notes on her patient’s last thoughts that eventually she developed into a book called “The top Five Regrets of the dying”.

Their First regret people had: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.

This was the most common regret of all. Looking back, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. We realize, time and again, that we could have chosen differently.  I would hope that on these HH, we realize that it is never too late to dream again.

The second regret most people had: “I wish I didn’t work so hard”.

Many parents arrive to the end of their lives realizing that work became their lives. They missed out on their children and friends. Remember, it is not the things that matter most, it is the people we love.

The third regret people had: “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings”.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result”. So on these HH, decide to open up to your loved ones and express your truest self.

The fourth regret people had: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”.

Too often it took people coming to the end of their lives to realize the loss of friends they have left behind. Why can’t you commit to write or call some of those friends you left behind? Don’t let life be too heavy that you will have this regret.

Finally, the fifth regret people had before dying: “I wish that I let myself be happier”.

It is never about the circumstances of our lives. It is not that if we don’t have enough savings, we can’t be happy. Tourists often are surprised when they visit poor countries, when they see many modest and humble people laughing, dancing and singing in the streets in spite of their circumstances. You can let yourself be happier no matter your current circumstances.

Don’t end up saying to yourself, what Woody Allen wrote sarcastically: “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else”!

Writer George Sanders told this story:

“In the seventh grade, this new kid joined the class…Ellen was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good? That sort of thing”). I could see, this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked…trying as much as possible to disappear.

After a while she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth…Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then- they moved.

That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing. One day she was there, the next day she wasn’t. End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty two years later, am I still thinking about Ellen?

And writer Saunders answered: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

The lesson on these HH isn’t whether we live or die, but what we do with the time we have. Let us remember: Our time is always limited. Our choices are abundant. We tend to get lost in the minutiae of the small stuff. We lose perspective. We choose to spend significant time in non-sense, meaningless chatter, while life passes us by.

And when we look back at what we have done, we find regrets. Life lived missing the marc. What have we done?

Tonight, identify your most important regret. Have the courage to turn to it and say: I will not feel trapped by my past. I will choose a more meaningful life.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote:

It’s never too late to say NO to the past

And YES to the future

To offer remorse for regrets

To ask and give forgiveness

It is never too late…

To feel again

To love again

To hope again.

May each one of us on this Rosh Hashanah be able to confront the regrets we have. May we overcome the sense of being stuck finding ways to move forward in order to grow in wisdom, finding more satisfaction in life.

Ken Yhie ratzon,

May this be God’s Will.