Before You Get Too Old, Make Things Right
There’s nothing sadder—or more karmic—than the husk of a once vital, strong, aggressive, even abrasive individual who has waited too late to make things right and has to both live and die with that regret.
I’ve seen enough of it to know to try to do my best by people so that I won’t have those kinds of regrets. Things may not always turn out like I’d like them to, but I can generally look back on my efforts as doing the best I possibly could, trying the hardest I could to make things work out. And, if they didn’t, then at least is was not for lack of trying. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t pain or grief over certain situations, but I do my best to live my life without regrets, and a big part of that is in how I treat people.
I’ve learned the hard way.
I’m at the strange stage of life—some people call it middle age—where people from my distant past have started to come back, lugging debilitating regrets behind them. They remember things they did, or said, to me twenty years ago that caused a breach in trust, a break in faith and, ultimately, an end to our relationship. They come back to me now, in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, a few in their 80s. And now they want everything to be right again, like it was years ago. In almost every case though, it’s too late. If they’d made an attempt within days, weeks, maybe even months, then perhaps the damage could’ve been repaired. But to wait years, decades even….
For most of them, probably all of them, I learned years ago that I had to live with certain decisions they’d made. And, now, as they teeter on the brink of old age, they have to live with those decisions. Small slights can be overlooked, forgiven and forgotten, but some forms of mistreatment can hover for a lifetime.
It’s easy enough, in the heat of the moment of anger or rejection, to lash out to hurt someone else. But when you steal a person’s life savings, try to take their children away, try to destroy their relationship with a loving parent, try to get them fired? Well, those things aren’t quite so easy to forget about. Once the recipients of such treatment do forgive and can finally move on, they get used to life without that other person, until that other person, finally, decades later, asks for forgiveness and there’s just nothing there between them anymore.
The biggest surprise I have had in my entire life was a woman who, almost ten years after the fact, came to me and apologized–in public–about everything she had ever said about me and for trying to take my family from me. I very much appreciated the reversal and the apology, and I know she was hoping that we could be friends again, but that relationship is likely too far gone. I could have put forth a grand effort to try to make it work again, but it would be a burden for me to do that. This rift between us is really her burden, her karma. I’ve lived many years now without her friendship, and it’s not necessary to my happiness. If anything, I think it would take me a step backward from the progress I’ve made.
I think, after time and perspective, people eventually see their mistakes and wish they could be undone. I know it takes a lot of courage to find someone from your past and try to make amends. The longer it takes to right those wrongs, the less likely, it seems, either party will be happy with the results.
Ghosts from my past return, on occasion, when they are facing their mortality. They want to leave this incarnation in peace. One came back into my life demanding to be free from his regrets and for me to accept his friendship once again. Yet, his regret was only for his missing me because he sat in from of me and told me he had medical problems and could not remember what it was he had done to me that had severed our friendship. He claims not to remember our business partnership or that he lied in an attempt to obligate me for $60,000. All he can remember is how productive we were as partners. He has been the exception, in all these people who have come back into my life at middle age, with regrets for the past.
Most do remember how they mistreated me, as well as how they mistreated others. It is a weight they carry with them every day. And though I appreciate the twist of karma when they show up years later, wanting desperately to go back in time, to erase now the cruel words or deeds that they were not interested in undoing at the time. They look at me with aging, pleading eyes, wanting me to take them back to that place, to tell them that everything is okay, to give them peace.
But I’m a different person now. And I’ve grown older without them. Whereas the debt between us might once have been satisfied, they’ve waited so very many years to try to undo what was done that there is nothing I have to give them, except an unspoken twinge of pity and a wee bit of sadness of my part.
Because I know, if they had acted sooner, the relationship or the partnership could’ve been mended. At worst, they would’ve had to have tried to prove themselves trustworthy again, but here could have been happiness between us, and that was lost because they had waited too late.
Don’t be that old man or woman, regretting with every breath what you did to someone long ago. Make it right. No matter how hard it is. Because the longer it takes to make it right, the harder it gets, and the less likely you’ll have success.
Key Takeaway: When you hurt someone or made a mistake, apologize and make amends as early as possible even when it is difficult. Allowing too much time to pass when the other person has already moved forward without your relationship only makes apologies more harmful than helpful.