April 20, 2003  |  Regrets
For her advanced students of English, Amber had given an assignment to write about regret. Very interesting, I commented, and our conversation digressed to it. We had just came back from a 3-day hiking trip where I had failed to make the summit so at the time there are a number of things I would have liked to do over again. But these are not real regrets, I did the best I could, I had a great time, and if I really wanted to, I can summit the mountain again. Real regret is a hollow, gnawing pain with no remedy, for there is no chance of redoing the thing that was the cause of the pain . Another friend had said regret is unbecoming. I disagree, for non of us are spared from it. I told Amber the thing I regret the most —

San Francisco International airport has a spanking new terminal, with an elegantly simple greeting area suitable as a stage for the drama playing every hour of the day. I do not know if like the old terminal, it has class walls and ceilings overlooking the luggage claim area. This design was perhaps done by a very humanist architect: it is nice to see one's family as soon as possible. When I was 11, visiting my parents in the US for the first time after their absence of two years, I was given the task of guarding existing luggage in the corner while my aunt and cousin waited by the conveyer belt. I remember being dazed by the commotion and being in a completely different place than anything I've known, and staring blankly into space. Though normally perceptive of my surroundings, I never looked up. If I did, I would have seen that for half an hour my parents were waving, tapping the class, their lips moving with the motion of saying my name. That night they sat me down and told me what I already knew: things weren't working out between them. Thus began a more difficult period in our lives. If I had looked up, I would have given them, and me, an earlier moment of recognition that lit up the eyes, uncomplicated by the worries between us as if the glass filtered them out--a precious moment of delight and happiness that would have superceded everything else that came.

More recently: hiking in a nature reserve near Arequipa, we ran into a few young biologists volunteering by cutting grass in the lakes, by hand, whom we took for laborers at first. The conversations weren't long, but I thought one of them was exceeding interesting. we ran into each other again the same afternoon, and I had trouble not looking away as he smiled and smiled at me. But I had my friends with me and he had his friends and we never exchanged any information beyoud first names. This I do regret, for one can not hope to just run into a biologist of mucielogos (bats) from Arequipa ever again, and I miss his smile.

And most recently: leaving Mendoza for another 18-hour bus journey south, my driver had a picture of a beautiful young mother and bright-eyed little boy prominently displayed in his taxi, unlike the usual religious paraphenalia. In Argentina the drivers don't generally engage you in conversation, and I had missed the free Spanish practice and the warmth I'm used to in Peru and Bolivia (though I was very glad to be in taxis with mileage meters again). I wanted to comment on the picture, but I was preoccupied with logistics of my travels, and fumbling with coins and lugguage in the end, I forgot to say anything at all. It's s simple as it gets, "Vos tienes una linda familia," and I failed to mention it.


In the end then, I feel regret when communication, some transmission of warmth, between people could have happened but did not. An image that spells it for me: lips opening in order to speak yet keeping still, the voice hijacked by distraction or insecurity and other forces occasionally stronger than us. You may think such communication, even if transmitted, understood and accepted, is superficial and flimsy, that it would make no real difference. A child's sentiments. Yes, but tell me if anything is but an ephemeral gesture, that it's not the itsy bitsy bits of warmth and love that make or break our days.

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