“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
- Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
What a masterpiece of an opening sentence.
Novels become masterpieces because they tap into a universal feeling which endures through the ages. The brilliance of this first sentence of this particular masterpiece is simply this; it is merely a statement of fact with no judgment attached to it, no angst, no despair. It simply is.
Yes, Dickens knew how to write a sentence. And as often as we’ve heard the first few words of this sentence, the rest of the sentence is equally profound:
“…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
There could be no more apt description of the year to which I just said goodbye. From what I’ve heard, my ‘bipolar year’ was not rare. Others experienced extreme hardship and heartache interspersed with overwhelming happiness and good fortune, too. It must be a common condition, one which has endured through the ages. Yes, I’m sure it is. The year that passed simply is. We all did our best, whether we were wealthy or poor, employed or unemployed, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, loved or not. Let’s follow Dickens’ example, and look back on it without judgment, angst, or despair. The year that passed has simply passed. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The year 2011 lies before us as bright and shiny as a newly minted penny. As we go about making and attempting to keep our earnest and well-meaning New Year’s resolutions, I suggest we do so with the knowledge that none of us can possibly know what will come in the days ahead. If surprises (good or bad) come our way, let us acknowledge them and move on without regret or self recrimination. It’s okay. We’re all doing the best we can.
“Je ne regrette rien.” I regret nothing. This song was recorded by Edith Piaf, whom the French nicknamed “The Sparrow.” What a life she led..abandoned by her street circus parents, looked after briefly by her grandmother but raised mostly by prostitutes in a French brothel, a mother at age 17 to a daughter who would die of meningitis at the age of two, a member of the French resistance in WWII, and married three times. Most people with that bio would speak of many regrets. Not The Sparrow. She knew that she had done her best, and she lived her life with no self-pity and, certainly, no regrets.
I became fascinated with Piaf when I was a little girl. My grandmother owned a small enameled music box that played “La Vie en Rose,” Piaf’s signature song, and I would play it ad nauseum. I loved that song, but when I heard her sing “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien,” I fell in love with her. She recorded this song shortly before her death at age 47 in order to try to avoid bankruptcy. Her clear, strong voice, her impassioned phrasing, and her steady cadence say it all. You can find the translation easily enough online, but I think it's fairly self-explanatory..."No, I regret nothing."
Be gentle with yourself today and release your regrets.