“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” One of the first movies I ever took Hanna to see was Love Story, and I’ve used Ali McGraw’s famous line many times since. It works so much better than a plain apology.
John Lennon heard me say it, years later in New York, and he reduced both Hanna and me to tears of laughter by quipping, “Love means having to say you’re sorry every 15 minutes!”
Love Story still makes us weepy and, even though that line is corny, I believe it’s true. Real love is unconditional, with no ifs and buts. Forgiveness comes as part of the deal.
I try to live my whole life that way, without apology or regrets. I’ve always felt strongly that it’s pointless to bemoan bad decisions, because the past can never be changed… whereas the future is entirely up to us. Why whinge about the one when you could be creating the other?
So when I was invited to contribute to a book about regrets, my first instinct was to email back: “I don’t have any. I’m an Edith Piaf, not a Frank Sinatra.”
I was so pleased with this wisecrack that I shared it with Dan, my son, when he phoned ten minutes later. “Je Ne Regrette Rien!” he said, naming Piaf’s most famous song, in a perfect Parisian accent — Dan speaks French as elegantly as he speaks English and Hebrew, which is saying a great deal.
“So you’re like Piaf, and you don’t regret anything,” he said. “But what has Sinatra got to do with it? Ah — Regrets, he had a few…”
“But then again, too few to mention!” we chorused.
Dan was calling to invite us to the annual gala dinner of the Hyde Park Estate Association: he’s the chairman, and promised us a speech. His flat overlooks the park, London’s great green lung, and he’s an energetic campaigner to control development in the area.
The committee had picked one of my favourite restaurants, Maroush, which specialises in Lebanese cuisine. How could we refuse?
And as I strolled into the garden to find Hanna and tell her that the residents of Hyde Park requested our presence at a gala, I realised suddenly that I did have a regret, and a painful one.
The request for a paragraph or two about missed opportunities, failed gambles and wrong choices came from the National Hospital For Neurology and Neurosurgy in Queen Square, London. I picked up the letter and studied it — this was a bright and original idea for a fund-raising book, a collection of celebrity regrets.
The list of contributors was intriguing, and ranged from PD James and Sir Jonathon Porritt to Tommy Cannon and Graham Norton. Freddie Forsyth, Esther Rantzen, Betty Boothroyd, Wendy Craig, Gary Lineker, Gervais Phinn, Jo Brand, Grayson Perry, Lesley Joseph, Alan Hansen and Antony Worrall Thompson were all adding stories and reminiscences.
There have been many tragedies in my life that I would change if I possessed the power to reverse time and bend destinies as easily as I can bend a spoon. First of all, I would prevent the abortions which robbed my mother of eight children and denied me my brothers and sisters. My father forced her to sacrifice those children — and ever since my mother revealed that awful secret to me, a few years before she died, I have been acutely aware that if those children had not died, I might never have lived.
If I could, I would restore life to the Jordanian soldier I killed in battle during the Six Days War in 1967. That, too, could prove a fatal decision — if I had not killed him, he might have killed me.
Most of all, I would travel back to 1985 and prevent the miscarriage which cost Hanna and I the life of our third child, a boy we named Gadi.
These are griefs, not regrets. None of us has the power of a god, to direct our lives the way moviemakers control a film. We’re not living in a fictional universe, and the events that batter us are not part of a plotline.
To have regrets, and to fret about trivial mistakes or strokes of bad luck, is worse than a waste of time. It betrays a real lack of respect for the genuine tragedies that every one of us suffers during a lifetime. It can also lead to dangerous self-pity, and a negative frame of mind which starts to make excuses for failures.
Allow yourself the luxury of regrets, and you’ll soon be making excuses for yourself: “My life would be so much better, if only I’d caught that train/ dated that girl/ bet on that horse.”
I’ll say it again — we can’t change the past, but the future is ours to create. So forget about regrets, and focus on everything that’s good, and all the hope that lies ahead. Because, like it or not, all the whingeing in the world will only make things worse.
It was with this attitude that I set out to Maroush and dinner with my son, the chairman. Inevitably, during the course of an excellent meal, conversation turned to property prices, and I commented that I had almost bought a block of apartments overlooking the park, just after Dan was born.
In 1983 I could have snapped up 14 Hyde Park Square for £900,000. Today, the six apartments are worth a combined total of around £18m, and fetch a monthly rent of £10,000.
I might almost say I regret the decision not to buy. Almost…
But when I looked at my son, resplendent in his dinner jacket, holding forth with a witty speech to his gala guests, I knew there’s no regret in life that’s worth a damn.
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