In between my junior and senior year of college I worked at a girls summer camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania along with several other college friends. The area was beautiful with a clear running river that bordered the camp, perfect for swimming and canoeing.
I soon made friends with another counselor whose background was very different from my own. She was Amish; her family used a horse and buggy and had no electricity in their home. This surprised me because there was nothing about her that even hinted at her background. She told me that several years before, she chose to leave that way of life and go to college. "Those were hard times," she said, "my parents were greatly saddened." However, she and her family worked through it all and despite her decision they maintained their relationship.
The camp allowed counselors to take every other weekend off to either go home or visit nearby places. My A.S. U. friends and I went to Washington D.C. one of those weekends and to Atlantic City another. I had been at the camp a month when my new friend asked me if I would like to go home with her on our next weekend off to visit her family. I told her that all I had were shorts, and I was afraid her parents might frown upon that. She explained that would not be a problem. After thinking it over, I'm sad to say that I told her "no." Oh, I said it in a nicer way than that, but she gently smiled and told me she understood. Now, forty-three years later I am still beating myself up for not taking advantage of that opportunity. What an experience it would have been to spend time in an Amish home and experience that culture. I had the opportunity, but let it pass --a regret I have to this very day. That poor decision taught me to never let fear rob me of a chance to more fully experience our wonderful world and those who live in it. From that time on I intentionally thought back to my Amish friend each time something came up that would take me out of my comfort zone.
This lesson really tested my resolve when I was in the Czech Republic (on a Fulbright Group Projects Abroad) and our group visited the site of a medieval silver mine. We were warned that anyone deciding to go down in the mine would need to wear a hard hat and other protective gear. They also warned us that if we had a fear of tight places to wait for the others because once you were down there you couldn't change your mind and come back up. I remembered my Amish friend and decided to do it despite my fear. Let's just say it was so tight in places that we had to push our way through narrow passages that were dripping water. When we returned to the surface (I admit I rejoiced to be out of there) I purchased a necklace with the emblem of the silver mine as a medal of valor; I was proud of myself.
Several years ago my niece, who was a senior at the University of Arkansas, encountered an obstacle to her university sponsored trip to Spain. She was to spend four weeks there immersed in the culture and language, however a few days before her departure there was an outbreak of bombs in Madrid with several deaths occuring on the city transportation system (which she would be using). Her parents were alarmed, as was she. The news reported the outbreak was the work of an organized militant group. She questioned whether she should go or not; in fact, several other participants backed out. She emailed me, asking what I thought she should do. My reply?..."You can stay here and absolutely nothing will happen to you, absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing." That's all I wrote. Being a smart girl and my niece she drew from her well of courage and had a wonderful trip that created lasting memories.
I am convinced that we tend to regret the things we didn't do much more than the things we did. I tell this story to my students at least once a year, explaining that I know they've already heard it, but I want them to hear it again ...and again ...and again ...and again.