As I have grown older, I have found certain seasons of the year like Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, and Lent to be times to reflect upon the things that truly matter. Now, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, I have paused, once again, to ponder the significant rather than the superficial.
This week, my wife and I were supposed to fly to France for a week. I had never been to Paris. Needless to say, after planning this trip for over a year, we are disappointed – though we consider the decision to reschedule the trip to be a wise one in light of world events. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I am not a fan of bucket lists. You know the list of things that one wants to do before he/she dies. It always seemed to me that defining your life’s purpose in the form of an action item list is just too narcissistic and short-sighted. I have never heard anyone at the end of their life confess, “Oh darn, I never got to check Paris off my list.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have a list of desired places my wife and I would like to go, including France, but they are not defined in terms of a life purpose. There are other things far more important. As one unknown author put it, “When it comes time to die…make sure all you’ve got to do is die.”
Hopefully, as we age, we gain a little wisdom from having lived long enough for grey hair and arthritic knees. Unfortunately, with age also comes increasing visits to cemeteries as loved ones pass on. Having buried my parents, my late wife, and a number of in-laws, I have had occasion to take several reflective walks through cemeteries. While that may sound macabre, I have found it not only sobering but inspiring. Contemplating my own mortality helps me focus on living. When that day comes, I pray I have few regrets, not of places never visited but rather no regrets about the kind of man I was.
Speaking of regrets…Recently, I came across an article (1) that spoke to the regrets that people have at the end of their lives. Fr. Nelson Medina, a priest in Columbia, shared a list of the 21 most common confessions he had heard from people who were in the act of dying. It is a list worth reviewing.
- For the times I gave a bad example, and people followed it.
- For my indifference to the suffering of my neighbor.
- For not offering words of praise, recognition, and encouragement to those who deserved and needed them.
- For quickly taking credit for my successes, but blaming the circumstances for my failures.
- For not respecting the innocence of a person, or for hindering the dreams of another.
- For having spent money on things I did not need and never used.
- For the times I took too long to forgive others and didn’t make a big enough effort to do it faster.
- For taking advantage of those who loved me, simply for selfish motives.
- For not guiding well those whom I should have educated better before it was too late.
- For not visiting or spending more time with my neighbor, because I didn’t find him sufficiently interesting, educated, or useful.
- For wasting so much time on useless things — time which is lost forever.
- For enjoying flattery, even when I knew it was false.
- For complaining more often than I gave thanks.
- For the coarse, vulgar, or rude words that came out of my mouth.
- For participating in conversations that mocked God, the Faith, or the Church.
- For the many times I ran from the cross.
- For the promises I didn’t fulfill.
- For the moments I could’ve and should’ve prayed more and, above all, loved more.
- For ignoring Jesus.
- For hurting my neighbor in one way or another.
- For not loving enough — because I should’ve loved God and my neighbor much more.
Using this register of regrets as a tool for self-examination, I had to ask myself, if I were to die today, would any of these regrets be mine? Sadly, yes.
This reflection reminds me of the chorus of a song titled, When It’s All Been Said and Done, written and sung by Robin Mark, a Christian singer, songwriter, worship leader, and recording artist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth
Did I live my life for You
When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s reward
Will stand the test of time
I pray that “When it’s all been said and done” that my regrets will be few, and my last words will be the same as those of Jesus, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
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