It’s an esteemable act to do the right thing at the moment.
Have you ever done something you later regretted, but then found it was too late to make it right? Have you ever wished you had just one more chance to make an amend for harm done? One more opportunity to right a wrong? Often in life, we are given second chances, and opportunities to rectify situations with outcomes we don’t like. Perhaps we let a relationship die because we were too proud to admit we were wrong. Or we let it expire because we couldn’t forgive when the wrong was done to us. Sometimes we have a chance to make right those painful situations and live in harmony with those we once vowed never to talk to again. And sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we simply miss the opportunity to make amends, to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or to forgive. And when we miss those opportunities, regardless of how many people tell us “You’re fine” and “It’s not your fault,” we know there is something more we could have done. No amount of “let go and let God” will erase the pain we are left with when we’ve truly missed an opportunity. I learned the importance of resolving unfinished business the hard way before it’s too late.
The call came at 5:30 a.m. I no longer had to worry about whether I should call and make up, whether the argument had been my fault, or whether she was to blame for being more controlling and unreasonable than I was. It no longer mattered who was right or who started the argument. I didn’t have to worry anymore be- cause she was dead. As of that moment, the problem was moot, buried with her. Or was it? In truth, something died inside me too. The last time we argued, I remember saying to myself about Penny, “I wish she were dead.” And now she was. Not that I caused her death, but because of the unfinished business between us, her memory will always live within me as an opportunity missed. Upon hearing the news, all I could think was, “I wish I had one more chance to do the right thing and say ‘I’m sorry.’” But there were no more chances, no more opportunities. Yet it didn’t have to be that way. I could have done it differently had I been willing to get past my feelings and walk through my fear.
Some people might say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You did the best you could at the time. It wasn’t your fault, Francine.” And while that soothes my grieving, aching heart at the moment, it doesn’t exonerate me from my actions. I know there was more I could have done. So how do we avoid being in this place of sadness and guilt? We walk through the fear and take the right action when we have the chance.
What prevents us from doing what’s needed at the moment? An assortment of old ideas: we believe we’re right, we hurt from a past transgression, we think someone else is to blame, we fear what people will think if we initiate a conciliatory action, we’re unable or unwilling to forgive, we don’t know how to forgive, or we don’t know how to admit we’re wrong. Whatever our reason, not doing what’s needed at the moment can lead to missed opportunities. And while our reasons may be valid at the moment, there we sit with an ache in our hearts and a memory that impedes our serenity.
Is it worth the effort? Is it more important to be right than comfortable? Perhaps for some of us, it is. Perhaps for some, it’s a matter of principle. The esteemable acts process invites you to get past the problem to the solution, if not for the sake of others, then for your own sake. We never know how long we have to live. Mak- ing the very best of each moment is a gift we give to ourselves.
Sometimes the missed opportunities are not about people at all, but about opportunities in life. Have you ever had a job or the occasion to collaborate on a project, but your attitude ruined the deal? My most notable display of bad attitude happened in my second year of law school. I accepted a terrific summer associate job at a prestigious midsize New York law firm. I was smart; I could adapt. I was passionate about the law. But sometimes all the skills in the world can’t and won’t overcome a bad attitude. Instead of trying to work with other summer associates, I created barriers because I felt better than them. I was older, so I thought I was more mature. I didn’t drink, so I thought I was classier. I was working through school, so I thought I deserved a position more than they did. I was at Georgetown, so I thought I was “Ms. It.” Each action I took created a greater wedge between us, until my attitude became a topic of constant discussion. Upon completing law school, every summer associate was invited back to work at this firm—every associate but me.
Years after the experience, I continued to blame the firm, citing reasons such as prejudice, and jealousy, that I wasn’t a party girl, and that I am a woman. The truth is I blew it. I missed the opportunity to practice law at a wonderful firm. I let my fear of fitting in create un- necessary barriers for me. Sometimes life is unfair due to no fault of our own. And sometimes life is hard because of the choices we make.
The wisdom to know the difference is the key to not missing the opportunities.