Regarding the previous post, the things I regret most are not so much the decisions that hurt me, but things I did or said that hurt others. I'm rather socially inept. I sometimes blurt without thinking.
There are two particular instances that still, after decades, bother me. I wish I could take them back.
Fall 1967. Before cell phones, GPS, internet maps. My first day at a new job, picking up an emergency semi-permanent job from a teacher who'd had a heart attack, math at the high school in Hanover, Pa. The superintendent's office had called me to please come in the next day, and the secretary gave me directions to the school. She told me to turn right at (something like) the second traffic light, then turn left at the second light, then right at the next light, et cetera.
The next morning I left home with a good half-hour to spare, and headed to Hanover.
I went through only one traffic light, Hanover is (was?) a small town, and I soon found found myself through the town and out in farmland. I didn't know whether to keep going, maybe there'd be another light? Nah. There's nothing out here. I turned around and tried turning at that previous light. Again after a barren while I found myself out in farmland.
I had to find the center of town where there were businesses, and ask. I arrived at the school 20 minutes late for the first period. This is very bad. Somebody has to be in the classroom at all times. Teachers cannot EVER be late.
I rushed into the office. There were two secretaries there. The taller one asked what had happened. I replied that (and I still remember my exact words), "I got directions from the superintendent's office, but the idiot secretary there doesn't know the difference between a traffic light and a stop sign. I kept looking for traffic lights that don't exist."
The other secretary looked up and flinched. She was a much older woman, small and pale. She got even paler, her face fell, and I knew immediately that I had screwed up. She said, "Yesterday was my day to sub at the superintendent's office." She teared up, and wailed as she ran for the inner office, "I don't drive. I don't know the difference between a traffic light and a stop sign!"
Sigh. I still, for some reason, remember that. I made a sweet little old lady cry.
Fall, 1990. The ladies' room at the Litigation Lab. It was small, two stalls, one sink, one small sofa, a waste can. We ten people were the only people in the very large building; the only females at that time were me, Martha, and the secretary. We had a huge dedicated multi-mainframe computer room with the usual raised floor. The building was surrounded by fields, and we'd had a problem with snakes, mice, shrews, and who knows what else under the floors.
One day we started to have a problem in the ladies' room. It got worse and worse over the period of a few days, and one day when I went in there, the smell was so bad I literally gagged. It smelled exactly like something had died and rotted in there. The stench of death. I mean really really bad. Like a groundhog had rolled up under the computer room floor and against the rest room wall and was turning into a pool of noxious liquid soaking through the wall.
The secretary was washing her hands when I walked in. She was one of those very mousy women who always look like they're expecting to be beaten. Stooped back, shoulders rolled forward, head down. Never looked anyone in the eye.
I said, "Oh my God! What died in here?! That's awful!" and started sniffing trying to locate the source.
She looked up, looked me in the eye for the first time ever, and I saw fear and shame there. She said, "It's me. There's something wrong in my bowels. Everything I eat just rots in there." And then she scurried out before I could digest what she said. (No pun intended.)
I stopped by her desk and said I was sorry to have reacted so badly, but that she really should see a doctor. That has to be a sign of something that needs help.
She didn't come into work the next day, and the following week we had a new secretary. No one knew anything about her condition, or where she was, but I heard that it was pancreatic cancer. I don't know if that was knowledge or presumption. It turns out no one knew her at all.
What sticks in my head is the look in her eyes when she said "it's me", and I very much regret having elicited that look. I wish it had never happened.
Of course those aren't the only times I said or did something that hurt or upset another person, but for some reason these are the ones that stuck, that I still see and hear in my mind, that make me cringe, make me want to do it over. Is it coincidence that both were secretaries? Or is it more that both were mousy defenseless women?