Woman sitting under a tree

No regrets

In Insight and Experience by Leslie CaplanLeave a Comment


A short, potent enquiry about going back and changing one thing in your life if you could. 

We were sitting in the yard under a leaning, fanned-out tree bending low to shelter us from the piercing summer sun. I searched the sky for an answer to the question she posed. “If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?” Images flashed before my eyes like a sped-up slide show. No space between them.

“I wouldn’t change anything”, I heard my own voice whisper inside my head. Every action, stillness, moment of motion or nothingness brought me to this moment. No mind to the scars. They give aesthetics to my soul. Still, I knew there must be something I’d go back and change that wouldn’t set me on a course of being a different person than I am now.

I leaned into the trunk of the tree. I traced the lines on my palm with my fingertip as if they were brail, sensitising to the dips in skin, the raised calloused trails of my journey this far.

“I wouldn’t have gotten my tattoos”, I finally said out loud. She moved toward me, stretching her fingers out like magic wands and traced the tattoo over my heart with a soft touch.

“This one is a Balinese symbol”, I said as she studied the details of it with her soft green eyes. A tear leaked from her left eye and rolled down her cheek.

“It’s over every doorway of a home and temple in Bali symbolising that when you enter, you do so in a sacred way. That’s why it’s here, over my heart”, I said.

She bowed her head to enter my heart in a sacred way. She’d been inside it for decades and always came in with reverence.

“Well, maybe not this tattoo”, I said. “I’d keep this one.”

“I wouldn’t have grabbed my son by the shirt when he was seven years old, so hard it left a red mark on his neck.” I dropped my head toward my chest. She scooted in next to me, shoulder to shoulder and leaned against me like I leaned on the tree. She was listening with her whole body. The tear that fell from the light in her eyes became mine. She said my eyes turned black like obsidian, glass-like, as they welled with what we called ‘holy water’.

“You were an amazing mom and still are.” She blew that sentence into my ear like it was a kiss off the palm of her hand. I told her I apologised to him at the time, and then again years later when I was on the back of his motorbike curving through jungle terrain that led to a river’s edge in Bali. He laughed, thanked me and said he didn’t remember it.

Somewhere in that boy’s cells is the memory of every time I jolted a reaction his way or tuned him out because I was an exhausted single mom who needed psychic space every now and then, and he was a force to be reckoned with. From the womb.

Still the question roamed around in my mind like a lost pup looking for its way home. If I could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

I’d never have smoked that first cigarette.

I wouldn’t have had sex with all those nameless guys. Me, looking for love in all the wrong the places.

A light rain began to fall as we sat with the answers to her question to me. The clouds moving over the bright blue of day shaded the yard and turned her eyes a deeper green. I fell into that green–a portal that crossed hemispheres. The green rice fields, the jungle vines that became my umbilical cord to the heartbeat of my belonging, the ring around the finger of my vows that broke.

I got up and walked across the yard and grabbed my hoola hoop. I kicked my shoes off and twirled that hoop around my waist, head thrown back to moisten my face with the soft rain.

“Here’s the answer to your question, Miss Sage Eyes”, I sang out as I spun round and round. “If I were to go back and change one thing in my life I would never have given that t-shirt away that said, ‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly’.

She beamed a smile in my direction and said, “Honey, I think you just grew yourself some wings.”


Leslie Caplan is a passionate writer, writing coach and editor encouraging and evoking the clearest, most authentic expression of your resounding voice and heart.  She is internationally published and lives in Ashland, Oregon, USA.

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