No (r)egrets

Regrets. Most of us have them. How often have we thought to ourselves, “If only I knew then what I know now…”? We would have made a better decision.

There’s something to be said for learning by experience.

But there’s also something to be said for paying attention to the signs.

I recently returned from a trip to Malibu, a beach town on the California coast. I had just finished a few days of teaching at a retreat, and had come down the hill to meet a colleague for lunch. The weather was beautiful, and the shopping area where the restaurant was located with packed with people and cars. I parked at the far end of the lot.

As I walked toward the restaurant, I came to a large tree spreading its branches over several parking spaces. Loud squawking noises were coming from above, so I looked up into the tree. Several large white birds — egrets, I think — were perched there, making quite a racket.

I watched them for a while. Then, out of curiosity, I glanced down, remembering a previous experience of walking beneath a similarly inhabited tree. On that day, the birds had made their presence known by…how shall I say this?…depositing the biologically processed remnants of their last meal on my head.

The good news is that I was wearing a hat at the time.

The bad news is that it was a straw hat. With spaces in the weave.

I knew, therefore, what to expect when I looked down: more, um, remnants, covering the ground beneath the tree. And parked under the tree, enjoying the shade, was a shiny new Mercedes sedan, covered with recently processed and deposited remnants. Next to it sat a BMW convertible. With the top down. Fortunately, that driver had not been similarly blessed from above. Not yet.

But if the BMW’s upholstery eventually did receive such an anointing, you can bet that driver would never park there again, at least not without looking. Who wants to live with regrets? (Or egrets?)

A somewhat frivolous example, I know. But you can supply your own not-so-frivolous ones. When we see something we want, do we ignore the signs that should warn us of the consequences of our decision?

To some extent, it’s a matter of conscience. If we we’re aware of the consequences, we have to make a choice, and hopefully wisdom will prevail.

But it’s also a matter of tunnel vision. We don’t even notice the signs. We’re too focused on what will make us happy in the moment, or else too distracted by other cares, too hurried to pay attention.

Slow down. Pay attention.

And if you see something nasty on the ground, walk and park somewhere else.