Reflections Of My Life"Now the grayest gray came on the day we were standing in the rain,
And the hardest hurt I've ever known was when you tried to ease my pain,
And the longest day in history was waitin' till my crying's done,
And the greatest song I've ever heard was the one we never sung.
And the saddest song I ever heard was the one we finally sung."
-- "The Greatest Song I've Ever Heard," performed by the New Seekers
In youth, there are few regrets, and lessons to learn from them are limited because life's experiences are also limited. In middle age and beyond, there are more regrets because the experiences are also more. And lessons they teach carry us into old age and to the dusk of life itself, and we reflect how we got here from there with a desperate hope for absolution. The absolution, if we have learned anything and are wise enough to apply it to what future we have left, is that we made our own choices, chose the roads we traveled and we and we alone as individuals account for those choices when the long years dwindle down to a precious few.
I have come to respect the adage, "If I knew then what I know now," and pass it to today's "kids" as advice born of experience and not with the implied warning of regrets yet to come. But I ask if the regrets we develop as young adults and carry into later years are the cost of experience and if any warning will steer us from making the mistakes that breed our regrets. In the end, I think we have to experience those matters of life in which decisions we make come back later to haunt us as regrets. Life, after all, never promised a rose garden.
Now, looking back on my mistakes - and they are plentiful - and losses that are just as plentiful if not more, I have consigned myself to the cold and maybe cruel reality that what has been done cannot be undone and what has been lost cannot be regained. Fuel for self-pity, a dangerous and self-debasing emotion. I choose not to empower my own self-pity because I've experienced what it gives me "permission" to do - to myself and others. More times than not, what I have done in response to self-pity has bred more regrets.
Thus, instead of carrying the cancer of guilt, I choose to atone for my mistakes by living so that I might not repeat them. Instead of mourning the losses of my life, I choose to feel gratitude that I had those people in the first place and live as I think I should have when I had them.
I cannot undo my choices that plunged me into near-fatal alcoholism or some of the extreme measures I took in my initial recovery by isolating myself from those who might have made that agonizing climb from the gutter less agonizing. I cannot undo the sexual irresponsibility that, even today, have some dismiss me as a "*****" and "****." Instead, I work on acting sexually responsibly, as an act of love and respect and not solely "to get my rocks off."
I still, however, hold a fleeting hope that my "soul mate" will one day find me. Realistically, I know that a long and lasting love is not in the cards for me. That I cannot and will not forsake a commitment I took on voluntarily to be primary caregiver to a dying person has been met with more criticism than support. And that response forces me to ask if I want a commitment to another person who apparently thinks his and my wants are more important than the needs of another who is facing his own death.
Two characteristics seem to have defined me to most people, fairly or not, as those characteristics probably define others with the same traits - being an alcoholic and a gay man. Both carry a stigma, again fairly or not. Of the first, I certainly am not proud or even grateful for being an alcoholic. Instead, I reflect on my years of drinking as an exorcism of the self-implosion I think was pre-destined within me early on. Of the latter, being a gay man, I took the journey, sometimes perilous, sometimes costly, from self-loathing and shame to being proud now that I accept what and who I am and I no longer anticipate rejection and judgment by anyone who empowers themselves with such authority. They, instead, are not the people who rise to my standards of humanity, compassion, support and inclusiveness instead of divisiveness. But I believe and understand now that being an alcoholic and a gay man are but two characteristics of my entire being, and I think now I don't need the influence of people who think that being an alcoholic gay man make up my entire being.
In the end, citing the words from the song by the New Seekers, I think the greatest song I've heard so far is the one I haven't sung and, more probably, the saddest song I've ever heard is the one I've already sung.
Despite or in spite of the odds, though, a part of me deep inside has the slender hope that I have yet to sing the greatest song I've ever heard.