Niagara Gazette

January 5, 2014

SINGER: The virtues of regret

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — One of Edith Piaf’s signature songs had it that she regretted nothing, and of course Sinatra — doing it Paul Anka’s “My Way” — caroled that his regrets were few in number. And hey, accomplished types known regionally, like Marv or Thurman, may have only four regrets — all Super Bowls!

Is it worse, however, when you need an adding machine to tote up one’s regrets? Perhaps, because everything you would have changed at key turning points would also have required different prices to be paid. In retrospect, the grass may look greener, but no matter which way one goes, it still needs mowing and weeding.

I thought of this recently, reading Bobby Orr’s fall 2013 autobiography. Anything but a mere sports memoir, the book reeks of philosophical wisdom on many of its pages, and partly, that’s the wisdom of regret.

The great Orr has regrets? Plenty. First, this deeply humble man knows that the peripatetic life he led in the NHL, and with high standards and demands on his time, precluded sustained pleasures of parenting, though he’s gained something of a reprieve via grand-parenting.

Second comes a regret that having broken in at 18, he continued to embrace his revolutionary style of rushing from defense up ice, cradling the puck, and thereby becoming a repetitive target. He simply couldn’t change and salutes coaches who let him do it, helping Boston win in the process. However, after much pain from being incessantly slammed, Orr’s knees were shot his last few years, and he left the game he lived for at 30.

Another regret is how much he trusted his former agent, Alan Eagleson, who turned out to be a big problem. Plus the fact that the current game lacks sustained intensity, due to multi-year lucre far surpassing wages of yore. And given hockey’s rule changes, Orr also denotes new injury clusters in the game, and unfair calls.

But his most serious regret is for youth — the fact that his kind of growing up experience belongs to a vanished time. He knows he can’t greatly alter societal trends, but at least has a caring, non-egotistical wisdom about the way things have evolved.

Kids in his place and day played hockey outside each chance they got, and were less regimented, systematized, and hectored by elders who considered themselves omniscient. Instead, Orr and friends mostly learned on their own — five on five, 10 on 10 ...

In his day up north there was barely any TV, so one didn’t glue oneself to the tube, nor to as yet uninvented computers. But Orr knows (as he now surveys empty places where his generation of pucksters honed skills) that things have greatly changed; and if sadness (in my view) is a first cousin to wisdom, Bobby O. reveals much of both in this classy memoir.

He also demonstrates the gratitude to realize he was himself a kind of salmon, heavily aided in making it over many shoals to star unforgettably in pro hockey — due to both support and non-interference from parents and coaches who let him be himself, and from veteran players who became mentors and protectors; not to mention from many unsung (the guy who turned on lights in a hometown arena, so he could grab extra ice time, families who billeted this pup in Junior A, and on it went).

Orr says, and again, regrets that today’s coaches would probably not have allowed him to blossom as he did, figuring out what worked night after night in minor and major league arenas. But again, his regrets are anything but purely self-oriented — they’re regrets for the thousands and thousands of young as fragile as he was, and who too frequently give up on dreams.

Both hockey fans and self-help aficionados will love this book, by an unremitting gentleman (and one who salutes other gentlemen whom he jousted against, such as Montreal’s Beliveau, and those in different sports whose similar attention to detail filled him with admiration — Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali, etc.).

The virtues of regret? Perhaps the main one — and it’s true of Orr — is that it helps you change things positively in the present.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.