My family enjoyed a huge reunion in Maine recently, and the last to arrive was my cousin Jeremy, a beleaguered statistics Ph.D. student in the death throes of his dissertation. He told me that he’d decided to come—after initially saying he simply couldn’t afford the time—by reflecting on a statistical concept called “the minimization of regret.” What were the odds, he asked himself, that he’d regret frolicking with long-lost cousins at the expense of a few days delay on his work? Having posed the question, he jumped in his car and drove like a madman through the Ontario night and into a bright New England afternoon where he was greeted as a conquering hero by all.
Needless to say this provided food for thought as I looked back on trips taken which I’ve never regretted, and trips not taken which I’ve regretted for decades. One came up recently, as I gazed with pain at the Concorde on a barge in New York City, as it was floated to its final resting place. I’d wanted to fly the Concorde for years, to get as close to space as I’ll ever reach, but I never got around to it despite having another cousin insist I should not under any circumstances miss it if I loved flying. But it “was too much trouble” and one small dream of flight lay in pieces. Just as the Berlin Wall had lain in pieces years before, and I’d never taken the time to gaze upon it and absorb this unique testament to the cruelty and stupidity of our species.
There are places to see and things to do, whether it’s that friend’s wedding in Newport Beach or visiting that cousin posted in Kazakhstan, and it behooves us to consider not just convenience or money, but the minimization of that powerful toxin, regret, in the bioenergetic engine of our spirits.
James O’Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers’ Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children’s art games at Birdcage Books.