“Is there anything you regret NOT doing in your life?”
Wow! This is a curious twist to the more common question, “What do you regret having done in your life?” I’ve attempted to answer that question on many occasions. To be honest, however, it has always been a challenge. I am grateful to have only a few regrets in my life. To the best of my ability, the top three regrets I have of things I’ve actually done in my life are: (1) pulling false alarms when I was in third grade, and yes, I got caught; (2) breaking up with my first high school girlfriend on her 15th birthday — hey, I was 16, okay? and (3) sending our three boys to Catholic elementary and high schools when we lived in a district with outstanding public schools. But that’s not the question. The question posed by Dr. Ceely is asking what I regret NOT doing in my life. I’ve given this considerable thought and five regrets have surfaced.
In my younger years, I did not enjoy reading books. The only books I recall having to read in my elementary school years (grades 1-8) were books I got to choose on my own from the local public library. Inevitably, I would be required to write some type of book report to show evidence that I had read the book. I honestly don’t recall reading any book completely. I’m pretty sure that with my writing skills, even at that age, and information gleaned from the back cover of the book, I was able to wing-it. Things were a little different when I got to high school.
With the acceptance letter to Saint Ignatius, I received a list of five books to be read during the summer months prior to reporting for the first day of high school in September 1968. I’m confident that I read most of those books, which included Treasure Island (Stevenson), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), The Caine Mutiny (Wouk), The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle), and The Call of the Wild / White Fang (London). I’m pretty sure I never completed The Hound of the Baskervilles, as I just couldn’t get into the book. Later in my freshman year, I was assigned to read The Hobbit. I gave it a try, but, again, the story never piqued my interest, so I didn’t finish it. Even in my college years, for the most part, I read only those books which were assigned in my classes. The thought of selecting a book to read for pure pleasure never crossed my mind.
It was much later in my life that I read and understood the inspiring words of Mark Twain, who wrote, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Since that time, reading for pleasure has been an important part of my life.
The second thing I regret not doing earlier in life is developing effective study skills. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing the term study skills until the summer of 1979, when I was asked to teach a summer school Study Skills class at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San José. Through the process of teaching that summer class, for which I had an excellent study skills guide to share with the students, I learned and developed the academic skills for myself that I wish I had mastered when I was in sixth or seventh grade.
This may sound trivial, but the third thing I regret not doing earlier in my life is using sunscreen. Growing up in the persistently foggy Sunset District in San Francisco, I never gave much thought to applying sun protection on my skin. It was only when my family would go on picnics or summer vacations to warm-weather locations that my parents would insist on me using Sea & Ski lotion to protect my Irish skin from sunburn. Even working my high school summers at Silver Tree Day Camp in The City, where I was outside all day every day, the need for sunscreen was not on my radar.
I did use sunscreen in 1971 when I spent a good part of the summer in Jamaica. Even then, however, I believed that the purpose of sunscreen was to prevent sunburn. After a few weeks in the Caribbean sun, I had developed a fairly good tan. Feeling that I was no longer in danger of getting sunburned, I stopped using the sunscreen. The same was true during my time teaching in the Bahamas.
Needless to say, I have paid the price for this error in judgment. I’ve had small patches of skin cancer removed from my shoulder, along with numerous pre-cancerous marks from my face and arms. I don’t recall anyone warning me about the potential of skin cancer when I was younger. The only concern was sunburn…