Numen of Regret



It’s strange to think that after everything, when it’s all over, you just quit. Your light simply goes out and you are no more. What I find saddest about that whole notion is all the questions left unanswered when we die. Nothing will be solved. No one will tell us what it was really all about. How we did. Worst of all, we’ll never find the answers to all those nagging puzzles that haunt us.

We think of life as having a beginning, middle, and end. But it doesn’t. It either ends abruptly or trails off. Either way, there are so many loose threads left dangling.

Our lives are the briefest of moments; they pass by like a dream. There’s no second chance for those who fail to grasp it. Such people simply reach old age and live out the rest of their days in the hollow depths of remorse, with nothing to hold in their hands to show that they had lived except the dried remains of all that should have been—the discarded husks of their dreams.


About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • That is a very sad thought, although one I’ve never known myself.
    One thing I do know for sure is that if there’s nobody to tell us what the purpose of life is after we’ve died, then there cannot be a purpose except an artificial one which what we fabricate ourselves.
    There really are no second chances. All we have is today.

  • To me the thought isn’t sad at all. It is a constant reminder that life is to be lived and that it is up to each of us to get out there and do so. The only sadness comes from failing to really live or not realizing how much it is in your hands until it is either too late or limited by frailty…to a large extent, that is self-induced sadness.
    I’ve lost two people who were very close and several others I knew well. Out of the two, one of them lived so fully that even in his absence, the mere thought of him brings a smile. The other one, well, I think he might lived differently had he realized how abruptly things would end. There was a lot of “someday I’ll” for him, but there ended up being no more days.
    Why is purpose artificial if it is create by us? The man I spoke of who lived so fully had a purpose he chose — to positively impact the life of at least one child living with difficulty. He did so quite brilliantly and in turn, his kindness has been multiplied several fold. His fabricated purpose has done a whole lot of good. I know he had questions right up until the end, but I also know he delighted in searching for the answers even if he didn’t get them all.
    Excellent post, Ryan!

  • No doubt that some have created for themselves noble purposes. However others have fabricated purposes with disastrous results for themselves and others.
    If purpose is self-created it is subject to thousands of circumstances beyond our control. The question is what determines those circumstances. Is is arbitrary chance? If we are products of chance then ultimately there is no meaning. Or rather the purpose of life can be whatever you want and change at any time and any individual’s choices are equally valid.
    But what if the realities of life are not pure chance but that there is a reality beyond what we can see, hear, touch, taste and feel that has active influence on our lives? If so, then our lives are shaped with a purpose that lies outside mere empirical observation.

  • Great comments folks! Thanks very much for posting your thoughts.
    John & Kathryn – I completely agree with what you’ve written re: purpose. I believe this life is all we’ve got, and it really doesn’t matter what you dedicate it to. Time wins in the end and it’s all futile anyway. The point is to choose something which gives your own life meaning, and do that thing well. Go as deeply as you can with it. Accumulate a rich store of experiences. Don’t reach the end and regret all the things you didn’t do. Dedicating yourself to something makes it meaningful.
    K – re: searching for answers. I get what you’re saying, and I also take delight in the search. Like travel, the destination is totally arbitrary. It’s the path you take to get there. But I’m still a bit disappointed to think that all won’t be revealed at the end. Feels kinda like reading 3/4 of a really good book and never getting to the ending.
    Jeff – Yes, that’s the rub. Some of those purposes can be harmful. Some can be evil. And some misguided. Some that seem good might even be doing harm, harm we’ll only learn about decades later. I don’t see any way around that. I also believe there’s no absolute morality, that morals are completely relative. It’s up to everyone to create a personal moral code they can live by. A personal philosophy. Does that lay things open to abuse? Yes, of course. But I don’t believe there’s any one right moral code which can be dictated from on high.
    “If we are products of chance then ultimately there is no meaning. Or rather the purpose of life can be whatever you want and change at any time and any individual’s choices are equally valid.”
    That’s the position I act from. While I would love to believe there’s a higher purpose or something else beyond us, nothing in my life that I’ve ever encountered supports that view. I won’t bank on it. I think it’s better to bank on the things I can effect. (It’s also part of my personal code to support anyone’s right to believe anything they want, as long as they aren’t infringing on someone else – that also goes for people whose view are vastly different from mine – the world’s a big place, and i think there’s plenty of room for everyone.)
    An existentialist sorta view doesn’t have to be bleak. Not if you have a purpose. It’s only bleak when you ignore that purpose and die of regret.
    Really great discussion my friends! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂


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