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Gardens of Regret

Losing our way, fumbling opportunities, procrastinating, all the things we do to sabotage our intentions have their roots in one of two places:  The Garden of Unfinished Business, or The Garden of Children’s Solutions.

         The Garden of Unfinished Business heaves with all the insults we buried alive because we didn’t have the tools, or the self-esteem, to act in the moment when we were assaulted. The Garden of Children’s Solutions is the place we keep harvesting, pitifully, for solutions to adult problems.

         In the Garden of Unfinished Business flowers the endless chattering of what we might have said. Like, You know, I never did like you and I always thought you would come to mess all over your life, but you can’t mess on mine; and, Listen here, you can’t speak to me like that; and, That’s unacceptable, or, Daddy, why did you do that? Why did you say that? You hurt my feelings. All the things we didn’t say when it would have been appropriate to say them, rise up on every side as we constantly tour the garden, trapped in its narrow embrace like Scrooge in Christmas Past – righteous, angry, and regretful.

         On one side of The Garden of Unfinished Business runs The Alley of Justification. It’s a murky, self-righteous place. A narrow, cloacal passage that snakes among ponderous trees choked with giant spider webs and alive with vipers, where the most hideous of your failings burble just beneath the surface.  It’s hateful. And yet you return, compulsively, to converse once more with the outrageous, the disgusting, the crooked.  Can you seriously believe one more encounter might set things straight? You know what they say? they say, In your dreams, baby.

         The Alley of Justifications, which some call the Path of Accusations, is a killer; problem is, who gets killed is you. My eleven-year-old son loves to say, Not my fault!  which, unfortunately, does not matter.  Of course it wasn’t your fault, of course you didn’t deserve what you got, of course you were misunderstood, misinterpreted, deserved a break, another chance, another shot.  I know that.  But I’m the only one who does.  I’m the only one you can tell.  All these years you’ve been telling that harsh, unforgiving Judge you nurse, he’s never budged. You know you’re guilty, and so does he, and lord he loves to lay it on.

         On the other side of the Garden of Unfinished Business runs Mea Culpa Way, or Tediousness Prospect, as it is referred to by the sardonically inclined. A steel walled, endless walkway of self-reflection, where it is always autumn, and it is always evening, and everything there is impervious to contributions less than decades old, suggestions lacking a fine covering of moss; only trusted, truly worn and finely honed arguments are welcome–certainly nothing to challenge the old guard. It is a place of tedious repetition, where one is always at fault, and always will be, and the sound of I’m sorry endlessly keens through the stark, black boughs, while a chill wind rustles the leaves around your feet--where all wounds are equally tended and teased. It’s exhausting. I know.

         Whereas The Garden of Unfinished Business is a foul place, The Garden of Children’s Solutions is a fool’s place.

         In the Garden of Children’s Solutions one must brush the dust of decades from the foliage to see the bright-faced flowerings of a self-referencing young mind in dire straights. So many of the solutions found here are brilliant, some are ingenious, others are wily, or shrewd, and still others are obviously life-saving, or were, long ago. All were the creation of great striving. All were achieved under duress.

         And all bear that youthful imprint of naiveté, of logic that fails not from lack of intelligence, or structured reasoning, but from being lied to about the facts.

         The forces of conditioning prowl the halls of childhood. The sins of commission were delivered two by two; they are absorbed one by one. It’s child’s play. Any sign of rising resistance, anger, tears, was perceived as a threat.  Those who were offended, who saw, who know, who recognize the undefended, compulsion overwhelms.  Teachers, bosses, partners, mates, would be leaders, advisors of every stripe, from priests to salesman, to politicians, struck and indulged.  And it hurt, every time. I know.