Then

Then high winds meant the plane I was to take arrived late.
Then the flight was full so we took longer to board.
Then there was a delay in the the push back from the gate.
Then I missed the connection in L.A.
Then I found out the next flight was 24 hours later.
Then I was last in the queue to get an overnight hotel.
Then it took an hour to get to the front of the queue.
Then I got to the hotel and was told I was not staying at the Sheraton, but rather at the Four Points by Sheraton.
Then I walked with my luggage to the Four Points.
Then the Four Points told me they were full.
Then I had to go back to the airport to get another hotel.
Then I was told to wait downstairs for their shuttle and someone would call when they arrived.
Then half an hour passed and I was still at the airport and all alone.
Then I called the hotel and was told the shuttles stopped at 2am and that it was now 2:30.
Then I was told to taxi or Uber.
Then I went back to the United desk to complain but it was closed.
Then I saw the hotel is 2 minutes away but taxis charge $15 minimum.
Then I downloaded the Uber app.
Then the Uber driver called me.
Then my phone disconnected in the middle of the call when it ran out of juice.
Then I foraged at the airport for an electrical power point.
Then I called the Uber driver and he took me to the hotel.
Then I saw he charged me $15.
Then I went to the toilet, and it was amazing.

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Je ne regrette

I recall, years ago, asking my parents how they knew what to do when bringing up children. My mother – one of the wisest and yet most understated of souls – initially seemed to grope for an answer but what she said has remained with me ever since: “I suppose… we just made sure the right values were instilled… and then we sort of hoped for the best.”

Like a comforting set of old worry beads, I recall playing with that response in my mind as I sat on the floor in my bedroom a few months later, while my hands, in turn, continually rearranged a set of post-it notes. On each of them I’d written what I felt to be those values, and I continually swapped them around trying to work out – at least for me – their relative priorities. Knowing my priorities, and knowing my values, I’m sure, makes decisions so much easier, especially if you wish to pursue a life free from regret.

As I write, good friends of mine are diving in the Maldives, probably with giant manta rays, or whale sharks. Swimming with such majestic creatures is close to the top of my list of, “Things I’d most like to do before I stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun.” And yet jealous though I feel, I have no regrets about not going. In a matter of days I’ll be heading to see long neglected friends, including my godson. A few weeks ago, I spent time with family, which featured a road trip though northern France to see a long lost relative who had himself melted into the sun, 100 years before, almost to the day.

The family road trip – mum, dad and brother – took in Rouen, Rheims and Amiens, but the most poignant element was on the final day, on our way back towards Calais. Driving along the archetypal poplar-lined roads, through beautiful, undulating, French farmland, it’s easy to feel lulled into an easy peace. There is both weight and depth to that peace, however, from the frequent cemeteries, sitting like beautifully manicured wreathes on a gently rolling ocean, each floating within sight of the next; a sorrowful daisy chain.

We stopped, initially, at the cemetery of the Devonshire regiment. A small site, hidden on a tor behind a thick line of trees, it was tragic to see not only the youth that had passed, but the timing of their deaths: “1 July 1916”. “1 July 1916”. “1 July 1916”. Headstone after headstone was carved with the same date. For next to no gain, and knowing their likely fate in advance, these men had gone over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. I absorbed the peace of their surroundings in death; that peace was so very extreme that it was as if we had worked to provide them, in rest, with the perfect counterpoint to the bloody violence of their passing. How often does man find himself having to provide in excess, by way of remedy, when the damage has already been done.

We moved on to the cemetery of my great grandfather, not two minutes away from the Devonshires. My mother had visited just the year before, for the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War 1, and she knew where to go. There he was, lying next to the 22 year old compatriot who had died with him when the rifle grenade exploded in the trench next to them. My great grandfather died the month after he arrived, leaving behind five children, and a pregnant widow. His wife, my great grandmother, died just two years later from consumption, and so three boys and three girls were split apart, according to gender, to be looked after by social services, such as they were 100 years ago. What a war. Such a waste!

I returned to work a week later with a greater perspective on the relative importance of meetings canceled at the last minute, emails delivered late, failure to document, or someone who is working a bit inefficiently… all things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Time matters. The important decisions matter. Friends and family matters.

I wouldn’t have traded that time with family, nor the time I’ll shortly be spending with friends, for those whale sharks and mantas. Sharks and mantas will come in time but for now, as I see clearer into the now, through the lens of my past, I feel closer to my family than ever. My values were right – thank you mum and dad. My priorities are right – thank you 3M for your post-it notes. And when I melt into the sun, as we all must, I’ll smile knowing that this was a time in my life I lived completely free from regret.