In two weeks, the removalists will come in to pack up my home and studio. A little over three weeks after that I’ll be boarding a plane with a one-way ticket to Singapore. My days in Hong Kong are fast drawing to a close.
Of course, I’ve been in this situation before, leaving Sydney, leaving London and leaving Delhi. The circumstances were different every time. Yet, there was a similar kind of slow melancholy that hung over the final days. Something beyond the sadness of all the goodbyes and the doubts that naturally linger behind our life-changing decisions.
Something I tentatively describe as regret.
I try to avoid nurturing feelings of regret. Not only is it hard to enjoy life filled with regret, but, as Marcus Aurelius pointed out, it is also hard to have either an appropriate sense of justice or humility when one’s focus is consumed with regret.
However, I spent most of my twenties consumed with regret; largely over mistakes made, people hurt and wrongs that I didn’t to correct. Looking back it is clear those feelings made me a fearful, conservative person. One way to avoid future feelings of regret is to avoid doing anything you might, well regret – which can soon morph into avoiding anything new, different, or challenging.
Now that I’m in what can best be described as “mid-life,” the shape of regret has changed. Like other people my age I tend to regret the things I have not done far more than the things I have done. Of course, these kinds of feelings can push people in a whole different, more reckless and self-obsessed direction.
Fear or gratification? It reminds me of Søren Kierkegaard’s admonition – “…do it or do not do it, you will regret both.” Or, maybe like Robert Frost’s traveller in The Road Not Taken, we are always prone to look back on our small, insignificant decisions and interpret them as being far more well thought out than they really were – so the path that was “really about the same” becomes “the one less traveled by … that has made all the difference.”
With the clock ticking loudly on the close of my time in Hong Kong it is easy, maybe too easy, to feel a sense of regret. A few times this week I’ve found myself questioning how well I invested my time here. The photo above was taken this week – it’s an image I’ve had in my mind for months, but never actually made the time to create. Last night I was at Web Wednesday (a Hong Kong digital media networking event), talking to some people, interesting smart people, that I really never got to know all that well.
There is an obvious school report style lesson to be learned here – must try harder next time. Wrapping these feelings in the language of our time – calling it part of the grieving process, for example – feels kind of reassuring. That’s a way of comforting oneself with the idea that this will “pass.”
The greater truth, of course, is that this life I lead has a sense of tragedy built into it. I will always be saying goodbye to beautiful, extraordinary places filled with amazing people for as long as I live. And, what is the alternative? Stay rooted in one place and other kinds of tragedy will manifest themselves as well.
Perhaps there is a kind of tragedy (or comedy) that lingers in the background for anyone with a sense of vocation, or purpose that guides their life? After all, vocation implies a sense of what we should do with our life and, of course, reminds us of all the things we will not do.
Lately I’ve been pushing myself out of the comfort zone. Pointing my camera at new things, trying to write music in different ways, attempting to be more honest and frank in my writing. Some decent stuff is coming out, but it’s been an emotional process. I couldn’t honestly describe myself as “happy” right now, but people are enjoying my company and my work – perhaps more than they did back when I was “happier.”
Is that the power of regret? I don’t know. But, it’s something is worth thinking about.