Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday Scribblings - Regrets

This week the Sunday Scribblings prompt is on regrets.
Regrets - Got any? Things you wish you'd done differently? Things you wish you'd said or not said? Things you want to be sure to do and say now so that you don't end up with regrets?
Here's my story.
In January of 1986 I enrolled as a transfer student at SUNY StonyBrook. I was lucky to find housing on campus in the dorm for international students and became fast friends with a group of men and women from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. We ate together, played endless hours of backgammon, studied into the wee hours, and talked of all manner of things.

On the morning of January 28th, we were gathered together in the lounge waiting for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. As we watched in shock as the events unfolded, one young man (American) shouted, "Those damn Arabs are behind this!" (Though there was no 9-11 to blame for this hostility, the Iran hostage crisis and Beirut barracks bombing were fresh in the minds of many.) As the faces of my friends fell, so did my heart, and yet, I said nothing. Within minutes I was sitting at the table alone. My friends were gone, and they would not return. EVER.

In the days and weeks that passed they avoided me. They did not make eye contact, left when I came into the lounge or kitchen, and did not sit near me in class. I was devastated. While I did not make the malicious comment, I was complicit by failing to stand up for my friends.

Twenty two years later, I still feel the same heaviness in my heart when I think of this moment. However, my guilt over my behavior has shaped me in ways I never could have imagined. As a teacher, it fed my desire to teach children about the world outside the one they live in. It helped me to recognize the transformative power of books and stories to teach us about those unlike ourselves. It continues to drive my search for books to use in instruction that express the range of human experience.

Fast forward to 2001. Two months after 9-11 I spent a week in Denmark reviewing a study abroad program. On the flight home I sat next to a young couple from India, an old couple from Albania, and two young Pakistani men. Few on the flight were friendly to them. However, I spent some time talking to the Indian couple who spoke a fair amount of English. I helped the couple from Albania fill out their customs forms using some mixture of hand signals and head nodding in the absence of a shared language. The young Pakistani men seemed wary of strangers, so all I could do was smile. Once we landed and were deplaning, one of the young men got down my bag and said, "Thank you." I couldn't figure out what he was thanking me for, so I asked why. He said he was grateful for the kindness I had shown to those around me. I remember tearing up and responding, "We will never have peace if we don't see the good in others and act accordingly." In my heart, however, I was thinking of the friends I had disappointed so many years before.

I suppose I shall always carry this regret with me, but since it has made me a kinder, stronger person, having to reflect on it every now and then doesn't seem such a bad thing.
To read more on regrets, visit Sunday Scribblings.


  1. Wonderful post! You surely did take a regret and transform it into an experience which reflects in a global way!

  2. Hugs to you... when we learn from mistakes, wonderful things can happen... good for you, and thanks for sharing...

  3. you put it well. it seems that this experience has had positive affects with you. instead of carrying emotional baggage that drags you down, you have found a way to transform it and be a better person. good job. perhaps you were a coward then, but you certainly aren't now.

  4. Oh, Tricia. What a heavy load to carry. I have a similar story -- I remember being an 8th grader and having a friend who was Arabic, who was older. We met on a trip to Mexico, and he was part of a team going to build a dairy and some outbuildings for a rural community. We spent so much time together and wrote so much when I came home, that I was cautioned by those close to me that he was simply looking for a second wife.

    He never did anything to indicate that -- he was just a kid who was utterly American and was being sent to his parent's home country to marry a girl he'd never met -- and it was much more fun to talk about old times and the fun we'd had on our trip than talk about anything as serious and adult as marriage. I think he was scared. But -- I did as I was ...told? Influenced? And dropped the friendship -- just, boom. I quit writing, and wouldn't really talk to him on the phone, and he went away, wondering what the heck he'd ever done.

    I hope that I, too, have allowed my regret to trouble me into being outspoken and not ever allowing someone else's suspicions and racial assumptions to ever color my behavior.

  5. What a beautiful, touching post. You are an inspiration!

  6. Beautiful story Trisha. You took a small moment and stretched it to show how it influenced you and the world for the good. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. This couldn't have come at a better time for me. I actually put my blog into limbo recently--giving myself a time-out because I made some snarky comments on someone else's blog and they took offense. People that know me know I kid around, but obviously this person did not take it that way--always a danger online. I posted a clarifying comment, apologizing, but have not heard back and have been bummed about it for a week. I've gotten nearly all positive comments on my own blog and feel bad for being someone's wrecking ball. I'll learn from this and will probably pick up my blog again someday soon but while not as dramatic as your touching story, it's a real regret for me. Thanks.

  8. Tricia,

    You're story made me cry because everywhere we go people are misunderstood and that saddens me. You have learned from your experience and that is something to hold your head high for, although I understand your heaviness from 22 years ago.

    There is no doubt you are a better and kinder person because of it...and as my oldest son (13) says "how can someone not like someone just because their skin colour is different or they come from a different country, It makes no sense." So true...

    Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thank you for this post, Tricia. You've inspired me to try to be braver (me, who hates confrontation).

  10. Hugs. . . .what a wonderful post. This one brought on a joyful tear for me. It gave me renewed hope for humanity. When regret changes us in a positive way, and we pass on that change. . . there is no need for further regret. Thank you for being!

    Peace, Light and Love. . . CordieB.