It has been exactly twenty-five years since they last saw each other as they walk through the automatic sliding door leading to the restaurant terrace. They sit together on the patio, and Jeff looks at her. He remembers the lost friendship and the missed opportunity to follow his heart. He smiles sadly and confesses, "You are my only regret from my college years."
This is not an excerpt from a story; it is a synopsis of my Sunday lunch, a reunion with a once dear friend. In town only for the holiday weekend, Jeff met me for lunch and waxed nostalgic about our college years, our friendship, and the critical incident (as Jeff calls it) that would separate us for twenty-five years.
This got me thinking about my books and the themes that repeatedly creep into my story lines. These critical incidents are what make the plot whether it be the plots of our novels or the plots of our lives. And for fiction writers, these are often inextricable. (Yes, we say it's purely fiction, but those who know us know better.)
Jeff also referenced the movie, Sliding Doors, where the passage (or not) through one sliding door makes all the difference in the life of the protagonist. All those questions of what if? are finally answered, and we see that no matter which doors we pass through, the end result is similar albeit through a different means.
I don't know if I subscribe to that philosophy, but the idea that we all end up where we were supposed to end up can be comforting, or at least can help squelch those annoying questions about what could have been. I've always preferred to look at my life path as a matter of timing. My personal mantra is Timing is everything. This makes regret pointless.
No matter which fatalistic system you believe in, the truth is that these moments are significant [Plug to my buddy Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time], and they cannot be ignored. In the literary world, regret becomes poignant as the muse that gives birth to characters. In the non-writing world, it is the origin of our nostalgia.
As my reunion with Jeff came to an end, I regretted nothing, reveling in the renewed friendship. And when we walked back through the sliding door, Jeff and I smiled, the symbolism not escaping either of us.