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Surrounded by the sighs of sweet, sad Regret

The Baltimore Sun

Once upon a time, I had this idea for a set of stories, one for each of the seven deadly sins. It probably says something about me that I finished two stories right off the bat -- Pride and Anger. But I gave up on the project because I had a problem with Envy. Envy is not my kind of sin, if you know what I mean. I've never been the type who eats her heart out over the things other people have.

But lately, having rounded the corner past age 60, I've spotted Envy once or twice, hanging about. Actually, it could be she's been around for a while now, using an alias -- Regret.

"Oh, my," I said to myself, after visiting a friend's library, where dappled light -- from windows facing the woods -- fell like grace on the antique walnut desk. "I regret that I will never live in a house like this, with a library, and a woods."

And, oh, my, Regret was there one evening when I glanced up from dinner on the Inner Harbor and noticed the condos across the way -- the ones high up, the sunset coloring the windows that surely must frame a view of distant blue bridges over the bay. Regret was there late one afternoon as I was driving through Worthington Valley and looked across fields and white fences at a stately house on a hill, and again one morning when I sat in that creaky chair on the porch and gazed over the whispering beach grasses at the ocean -- someone else's chair, someone else's porch, of course.

Regret is actually an interesting character. It occurs to me that perhaps she and Envy are not one and the same after all, though I do see a family resemblance. Envy is so bitter, so mean-spirited and nasty, that you cannot let her sit with you among friends, especially friends who might own a lovely home with a library or a cozy beach house with a view of the ocean.

But Regret -- well, she really values both your friends and the homes they own, and actually she holds no ill will for the lucky stranger who lives in the house on the hill. The only bad thing about Regret is that she sighs a lot and gets so annoyingly melancholy -- time passing, missed opportunities, the lives she'll never live, all that stuff. Regret is getting old fast.

The other morning, out for my daily constitutional, I took a turn onto a lane I'd never walked before. And there I saw a garage that took my breath away. This garage was not in the best of shape, but it had the most striking old rose climbing up the side of it and falling across its brow. "Oh, my," I thought, suddenly melancholy. "I regret I'll never own a garage like this, with an old rose like this one climbing up the side."

Suddenly a woman came out of the house and approached the garage.

I said hello and admired the rose. "How old is it?" I asked, for I'd begun to calculate how many years it would take to grow such a rose of my own -- even though I didn't have the garage to grow it against. I thought it best to quickly console Regret, who might otherwise spoil the rest of my walk.

"Old as the house maybe," the woman said. "We've only lived here a couple of years."

"I'd kill for a rose like that," I said, and smiled so she'd know it was just hyperbole.

"Really?" She looked bemused. "It's so thorny. I'm not fond of it. I'd let you have it in a minute. But we'd probably kill the thing, digging it up."

I could only look back at her in disbelief. Did she think I'd settle for a root ball with a few thorny canes sticking out of it? What I wanted was the entire expansive drape of that beautiful old rose, and the weathered shingles on the garage it clung to, not to mention the years to appreciate the breadth of it all, even in winter, when surely snow would cap the nodding rose hips. The best view, I presumed, as I glanced across the yard at the house, would be from the small window, upstairs in the dormer.

I waved goodbye and walked on, down the little lane.

"Come back any time and cut some," the woman called to me, and I think she meant it. She was a nice woman, but so off the mark that even Regret had to laugh.

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