"If only I'd known then what I know now" is a familiar expression which explores the possibility that, with the benefit of hindsight, the outcome of our story might have been different to the eventual reality. It is probably a sentiment that most of us would recognise.
Can anyone look back on their lives and say that, if given the chance, they would not change anything ... or that they have not a single regret about how they acted, reacted or in some cases failed to act when they perhaps should have done something? If they can, they are very fortunate.
There is a saying that "Anyone who hasn't made a mistake hasn't lived" and while the thought can be a comfort because it provides an excuse of sorts, allowing us to feel slightly less culpable, this adage – depending on the nature of the mistake – may provide only temporary solace.
Though we all send thousands of emails without a problem, many of us will have experienced that sense of total dread on the one, panic-inducing occasion when we hit the wrong key and send an email to the very person or people who should never receive it. Some internet providers now offer the facility to retrieve the rogue email before it lands on the wrong desk – as long as we realise our error in time. Life being as it is, though, we do not usually recognise our mistake until this window of opportunity has passed and so we must steel ourselves to accept that we will just have to face the possible consequences.
There are many aspects of technology that I rail against and although I can barely work out how to use a television remote control, I envy one of its functions – the pause and rewind buttons. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we, as human beings, had this same ability to rewind our lives to an earlier time, so that we could either relive the best bits, the happy times, or – conversely – delete the bad, then edit and fast-forward to where we want to be?
But we cannot go back. As the saying goes, "What's done is done and cannot be undone" and we have to move forward. We can savour or regret the past, or repent and, by the grace of God, learn whatever lessons we can from our mistakes. But we cannot bring the past back.
The present and the choices we make today create our future. If we allow ourselves to focus too much on our unhappy experiences, we can be pulled into a cycle where we can only think of our failures rather than how much we have accomplished and we can too easily forget that, in the dark times, Our Blessed Lord reached out to help us – and often extracted us from a difficulty in a way that we could not have envisaged.
To dwell too much on our negative memories has a negative impact on our future and can make us ill. How much better it is to trust in the healing power of Our Lord – in His forgiveness, understanding and infinite love – rather than drown in the regrets of yesterday. All we have is the present and, as the well-known song goes:
"Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine.
Lord help me today, show me the way, one day at a time."