This lent I am taking up a regret practice. I am over gratitude practices; I need something that beckons me into the shadows, into the desert like god did, crossing it and fasting for forty days and nights. I feel like I have the emotional intelligence, the self compassion and the skills now to bear saying mea culpa.
I went to bed last night having read a little about how white people brought smallpox to the colonies I was born in and I understood that my own internalised white supremecy is still alive, transmitted to me down the generations, that the sins of my foremothers and forefathers are my own legacy and my task, in the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy which was uttered as my forehead was marked, is to ‘turn away from sin.’
I have opened myself up to what regret might mean, and my psyche knows I am saying, here I am lord. I am grateful for the apocryphal dream I had on the third day of my pilgrimage. I woke up having dreamt of a demonic dog (it looked like the demadogs from Stranger Things which has clearly shaped my unconscious imagination!) tearing and bounding up to a small breezeblock house in the jungle where my sisters and I were holed up. We were all screaming and we tried to keep it out but it broke through, smashing the doors and windows, barking and drooling as it entered. I tried to wrestle it to the floor when it attacked me, but it overpowered me. One of my sisters reached up for a book (it looked suspiciously like the old King James Bible we used to read from at breakfast) and read it, saying, ‘This dog was sent to us because of the sins of our fathers.’ Having tried to keep it out and fight it, the only thing left was to be with it. The dog stopped attacking me as soon as I took it for a walk. It led me to a paddock where the horse I had as a teenager was stabled. Her name was Agatha and although I longed to ride her I also felt uneasy. I examined her hooves. The dog warned me she was not shod and I would have to wait before I could climb on and take her for a hack. In my memory Agatha is my saviour-horse and I associate her with freedom. When I was on her back I could roam- escape from the claustrophobia and dirt and loneliness of home.
For now, she has no shoes and I am not free. I need to stay here.
I am only at the start of this pilgrimage. I have played with regret practices before: I have joked about sausage regret, bike regret, not-buying-the-shoes-I-wanted regret, but I haven’t seriously invited it in. I know a little bit: I know that at the heart of regret for me I will find a paradox. That I could not have acted differently under the circumstances (I was not aware or awake) and yet I have caused harm. Regret is about remembering, not being let off the hook, of bearing witness to the harm that I have caused.
I will not be rewarded with absolution; I do not want to be good, I do not want to be innocent, I don’t want a washing of guilt or sin. Chasing that stuff only ends in obsession and shame and solipsistic self loathing. I am thirsty for something else. I am hungry for tenderness and justice. I hope I will emerge and know how to bear regret. Because only then will I be free.
Copyright Diana Smith 2020