There are ways of thinking about the past that aren’t just nostalgia or regret. A kind of questioning that enriches an experience after the fact. To dwell on the past is to allow fresh context to trickle in over the years, and fill out the picture; to keep the memory alive, and not just as a caricature of itself. So you can look fairly at a painful experience, and call it by its name.
— “Klexos: The Art of Dwelling on the Past” from Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig
There are things I regret.
For example, the many times I’ve felt lonely when people I love – and who love me – are only a phone call, text, or Facebook message away.
I regret the times I’ve felt someone’s sorrow or pain in my own heart, yet neglected to tell them, “I’m here. I care.” Neglected to just show up, casserole or kleenex or whiskey in hand.
I regret all of the minutes I allowed to slip past while I played mah jong online, or half-heartedly watched “Shark Tank”.
Most of all, I regret the times I neglected to bring my better self to difficult circumstances. The times I’ve let hurt, fear, panic or hopelessness rule the day. While I can rise to the occasion, it is humbling how often I do not.
Thinking about rising to the occasion (or failing to) I recall two arguments: decades apart, each had the potential to end a cherished friendship. In both instances, a friend accused me of acting from hurtful motives so far from what I felt or intended that the accusations seemed unrelated to me, completed unmerited. What I chose to do, how I chose to respond in the moment of hurt feelings and wounded pride, determined the course of those friendships.
In the first situation, I chose to cover my hurt with angry, proud, defensive pronouncements. A friendship built over the course of three years ended, forever, in three thoughtless minutes. In the second situation, I waited to respond, allowing myself to get centered in my own truth. That friendship continues to this day.
If I “look fairly” at these painful moments, what can I see? By applying klexos, the art of dwelling on the past, what can I learn?
First, if klexos is “a kind of questioning that enriches an experience after the fact”, I am discovering that it is important which past experiences I take the time to question deeply. Delving into those times when I failed to behave as I would have liked feels less instructive than mining the times I did choose to act as my best self.
With regard to the arguments in which two friendships hung in the balance, I think I learn more by questioning the second because that is the outcome I want to replicate. How did I convince myself to hold off from responding, to stay in the awful feeling place of the accusations leveled against me? What enabled me to review my own choices and actions with fairness, to allow that even some piece of my friends’ perspective could be merited? What were the characteristics of the communication that followed this internal “centering”, that allowed me to speak honestly but also with compassion – to hold the dynamic tension between our disparate perceptions in such a way that the thread between us didn’t snap in two?
These questions are worthy ones to ask of the past.
Looking back, it is true: I have regrets. But I also have successes, those shining moments in which I chose the right path. If such a thing as klexos actually exists, there is a reason it is described as an art (the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination). The artistry lies in selecting which memories serve as fertile ground for growth, as sound launch-pads for propelling us forward into a closer alignment with who we mean to be, rather than who we regret having been.