Two things happened recently. I was reading this awful list of people’s top dying regrets and was struck by how broad, general and moral people become when there’s nothing specific left to worry about. I don’t mean to sound overly brutal. Dying is huge, it catches up with us like a rolling boulder chasing Indiana Jones, and it makes us think vast, urgent thoughts.
But considered rationally (and rather atheistically), life’s finitude is the exact reason there is no sense in tortured regret, pleas for forgiveness, confessions, final wishes, or otherwise making a meal of it. These are the behaviours of a living brain that imagines it has a sense of conclusion. Maybe a brain that imagines it needs to cleanse the palette before the next course. And it makes me want to say, relax: you’re not going anywhere. Because, by definition, you’re not. You’re changing state, not getting a CRB check. The final moments aren’t significant because life is a continuum not a curve; the sudden consciousness of ‘what we did with it’ is an illusion as powerful as the light at the end of the tunnel, and I can’t help feeling terribly sad about people who spend any of the time they’re living their life (which is all we ever do) judging themselves like The Inquisitor, against an imagined, suddenly moralising, conclusion.
Anyway, sorry, bit carried away. The other thing that happened lately is I was thinking about Making Things Fast. It was my philosophy of last year, a few people told me they found it inspirational, and it helped me get on with things too. It was good, all round. But in a way, it was something of a defence against the crushing consciousness of a ball-rolling time pressure.
I still make things fast, and I still believe it’s better to make things than to feel anxious about half-finished projects. There are two sides to this, though, aren’t there? You can do things so you’ll never wonder what might have been, or you can not do things, and stop yourself from wondering about what might have been in some other way. You can quite easily never make anything, and live a long and peaceful regret-free life, if you’re totally accepting of the situation. And of course, it is possible to make things for reasons other than fear of mortal regret, something I fear has become a behemoth that people are using to drive their lives forward, motivation-in-disguise, and articles about the ‘most common final regrets’ aren’t really helping.
And that’s when I realised, it’s the regret you need to destroy. Not only the final one, which is no good to anyone, and not the memory of the one you had yesterday, which has passed. No, it’s the regret you have in your head RIGHT NOW. Because no other regrets matter. Actually, maybe there aren’t any. Maybe regret is something that only has life in the moment. Maybe your deathbed’s “Last regrets” are exactly the same as your “Last regrets of the week”.
So Make Things Fast, yes, if you think that will help. But make slow, barely-tangible progress too. Don’t define your life by the shadow of death. I mean, occasionally, like on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the birds are singing and there’s not a cloud in the sky, maybe don’t answer the hollow call of the grim reaper. Regrets take many forms, but they are vulnerable from many angles, and last regrets are no worse than any others.