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What I wish I’d done

by Roxanne Henke


The sign read, “Highway under construction. 72-mile detour.”

Honestly, I didn’t believe the sign. Whoever heard of a 72-mile detour? By the time we figured out the sign meant what it said, we were too far down the road to consider turning back.

Last fall, my husband and I were on our way to Minneapolis, Minn., from our northern Minnesota lake cabin. I was driving, since he had hurt his back. Like most people these days, we don’t have an old-fashioned map in the car. Since we’d made the drive many times, who would have thought we needed one?

My husband was resting. I stepped on it. It was impossible to speed. The road was so curvy, it felt like the Grand Prix racecourse. In “good” traffic, the trip to Minneapolis takes three hours. I had planned on four, which included a fast-food lunch.

Around and around we went. Minnesota is called the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” I’m sure I drove past 9,900 of them.

I was maybe 30 miles into the detour when I noticed the gorgeous scenery I was whizzing by. I did my best to take in the incredible fall colors. Every shade of green, orange, yellow and red decorated the trees, doubled in beauty by reflections from the lakes and ponds they grew around. But, it’s hard to absorb it all when you have to keep at least one eye on the curvy road.

I was trying my best to enjoy the journey, but my self-imposed timeline kept my pedal to the metal. Ridiculous, really. We had no one to meet at the end of the trip. There were no dinner reservations. All that was ahead was free time. And behind? There was nothing. Not a car on my bumper, or in sight.

I commented to my husband, “People pay good money to take trips like this.” I kept telling myself, “Stop. Take a picture.” But, by the time the thought registered, I’d be going around another curve. And, on I went.

Suddenly, there we were, 72 miles down the road, on the four-lane highway we’d thought we’d be on 72 miles ago. And, there I was, behind the wheel, wanting to turn around. Go back. Stop. Get out of the car. Take a picture. Or, 20.

What in the world had been my hurry? The boring highway miles stretched ahead, but my head and heart were behind me.

By the time we got to the Twin Cities, five hours had passed since we’d left. What would it have mattered if it had been five-and-a-half hours?

During the three days we were in Minneapolis, not the glitz of the Mall of America, nor the bright lights of the Orpheum Theatre could replace the nature scenes I’d rushed by. I kept picturing them over and over. Nothing could compare to God as designer. Why hadn’t I stopped and simply taken a moment?

Regrets. Sigh. I heard a quote a long time ago that’s stuck with me: “We rarely regret things we’ve done, we more often regret things we haven’t done.” Over the years, I’ve found those words much too true.

In my adult life, regret for things I’ve done are few. They are mostly having to do with saying something unintentionally hurtful. But, oh my, regrets for things I haven’t done? How long do you have?

Let me share two. The first was early in my marriage. My husband was in graduate school. Our “baby” was about 2 years old. Money was tight. A poster on a college bulletin board offered a trip to Europe for a little under $1,000 for the two of us. But, we really needed a new couch. You perhaps can guess what we chose – the couch. It was another 18 years before we had another chance to go to Europe, and we did. We visited our “baby,” who was studying in England. But, I still wish we’d gone years earlier. The couch is long gone, but the memories would still be with us.

A totally different regret involves a stranger. Again, early in my marriage, we lived in the upstairs of an old house, in an aging neighborhood. I hadn’t found a job, or friends. That upstairs had three rooms, not counting the minuscule bathroom, so it didn’t take much of my day to keep it clean. I spent many lonely hours staring out the front window. Through the window of an old house across the street, I almost always saw an elderly lady sitting, looking about as lonely as I felt. Many times, I thought of walking across the street, knocking on her door and asking if she’d like a visitor. But, I was young. A little shy. Not very brave. So there we each sat. Alone. With only a piece of glass and a street between us. And, even now, regret.

I’ve taken these regrets to heart. We’ve since traveled a lot. And, I always talk to “strangers.” I’ve learned there are new friends everywhere. And, beautiful sights. Next time, I’ll stop to feast my eyes for a bit. And take a picture – or 20.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke calls rural North Dakota home, along with her husband. She tries very hard to “do” instead of “not do.” She’s learned memories are much better to live with than regrets. You can contact Roxy at roxannehenke@yahoo.com.