When I was in college, I didn’t want to be there. Rather than drop out, I decided to work like a maniac and graduate in three years rather than four. But that meant going to summer school and taking classes morning, noon and night.
During an intensive 3 week Intersession period, I took Elementary Spanish in the morning. 9:00 AM-12:30 PM five days a week. The professor was absolutely horrible and constantly said disparaging things—particularly about American women. All the students hated him and constantly complained—about the quizzes, his teaching …whatever, we all just thought he was the worst.
On the fifth day of class, after break, everyone again started grousing to the professor. He decided he couldn’t stand anymore and just lost it, bellowing to the class, “You don’t like it here—well, anyone who wants out, get out. I’ll give you an A or whatever grade you want, just get out.” No one moved and no one said a thing. I sat there, my heart pounding, and I thought, do it, do it, leave, leave, LEAVE, the guy is such an asshole. But I, like everyone else I’m sure, was scared—who would really do such a thing? But then from somewhere inside me, I stood up and said, “I’ll take that deal.” The professor clearly never thought anyone would take him up on his offer, paused and then said, “OK. What grade do you want me to give you?” I said, “Just give me the grade I have earned,” which I knew was a B+ because that was grade I received on the only test we had been given. He said, “Fine,” nodded to me and I left. And I had ten glorious summer mornings free—I couldn’t believe it. (Later I heard that students flocked around his desk, begging to take his offer, but he just waved them off, saying the deal was off the table.)
Fast-forward a lot of years. I am flying out to do work in San Francisco—I had cut a 30 second spot for the videocassette release of Star Wars. And who’s in first class? George Lucas. The whole trip I’m thinking, should I go and introduce myself? Why not—but then again, why bother? Although I slept most of the trip, when I was awake I was torn with indecision—it was a groupie thing to do, but on the other hand…it was George Lucas. Ten minutes before we landed, I decided to go for it. I threw open the curtain to first class, strode up to his seat and introduced myself. We chatted for maybe three minutes; I returned to my seat, I had done it.
Another billion years pass to recently. A colleague of mine had the unimaginable happen—her beloved husband passed away. She managed to make all the arrangements for his funeral, deal with her less than a year old baby and her grief at the same time. Not surprisingly, at the graveside ceremony, when she started her written eulogy, she began to cry. A friend of hers reached for the paper and began reading for her. But as I looked at my colleague, standing there alone, weeping, I thought: someone HAD to go and comfort her. Why was no one going to her? Less than ten seconds later, I picked my way through the group to her side, and put my arm around her shoulders. In a minute, I felt my colleague pull herself together, steel her resolve, and then reach for the paper, so she could deliver her husband’s eulogy. My colleague’s strength and resiliency in the face of such a loss is astonishing and I am grateful that I was able to, in a small way, aid her.
I am also so very grateful that, in times of indecision– when the results of my actions might have been inconsequential, but might have been quite meaningful — I made, for me, the right choice.
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”