What might have been

How to see beyond regret to the fulfillment of one's promise

During his final days, a distant relative looked across the wreckage of a life not well lived, apologized to the family member he had hurt most over the decades, and so brought her a small measure of healing. I never knew if his act of penitence bought him any peace. There was an ocean of regret in his heart. He was said to have been brilliant as a young man, filled with promise. Almost none of it was realized.

Have you ever noticed, though, that at times a similar kind of regret haunts even those whose lives are brimming with achievement? It's curious. Maybe all of us— whether our accomplishments keep pace with our aspirations, or lag hugely behind because of unfortunate circumstances or bad decisions in the past—need to reconsider the real nature of both promise and fulfillment. Maybe we need to get a better fix on just what it is that originates and develops them. Is it a matter of an individual with promising talents—a musician for instance, or a peace negotiator—just happening to have the drive or the right circumstances or whatever so that everything comes together and he or she finds fulfillment? That sounds very iffy.

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March 13, 2000

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