The Poetry of Regret

I’m thinking of creating a course on regrets. Not just the little regrets we have everyday (“I wish I hadn’t eaten that third slice of pizza” or “I wish I HAD eaten a third slice of pizza”) but the big regrets. The ones many people seem to have at the end of their lives.

According to Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several choose-happinessyears working in palliative care, the five top regrets of the dying are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This course, I’m thinking, would be primarily built around the Lectio Divina process. We’d meet five or six times using a different poem for each regret. I haven’t quite worked out what poem would work best for each regret, but I can imagine something like this. Regarding regret number five (which, by the way, would be a great title for a poem!), this by A. E. Stallings:

Fear of Happiness

Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
Though someone always said I’d be all right—
Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
(The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

After a gathering ritual, we’d read the poem aloud three times, surrounding each reading with a generous dollop of silence (or maybe even a scoop). Each time through we’d listen for slightly different things in the poem.

  • What word or phrase calls out to you?
  • How does this poem speak to your life today?
  • Do you feel nudged by conscience/God/inner guide by what you’ve heard this session?

Each time through participants would be given a chance to speak out of the silence in response to these questions.

So that’s the general outline of the course. My question is, Do you have any poems that might speak to one or more of these five regrets? If so, I’d love to hear your suggestions! Once this one is done, maybe we can come up with a course on the poetry of no regrets.

(BTW, for more on using the Lectio Divina process with poetry, check out this PDF—Lectio Divina Process—from my colleague Lisa Doege.)


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