“I made my choice, and I regret it to this day. Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.”
– Kvothe the Bloodless, The Name of the Wind
The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss
I just recently discovered the work of Patrick Rothfuss, but I am very much enjoying it. The main character of at least this first novel, Kvothe, is sharing his life story with a passing scribe. His has not been an easy life. When he speaks about his regret, he is in the middle of his time as a homeless urchin, a beggar and a thief, a child who did what he had to in order to survive.
At that point, he didn’t have much of a life, really, one that most people would call hardly living, perhaps even worse than death. But he still had just a few things he valued, such as a hidden corner on a roof he can sleep safely in, a few pennies, and one small book that was given to him by his mentor, in happier times now long gone. Even that tiny existence was precious to him. It was all he had, a bare finger’s hold on life, barely even grasping an inch, while others had entire kingdoms to their name.
By the way, this lesson applies to everyone, rich and poor alike, and everyone in between.
What was Kvothe to do when someone, a young boy, was being attacked, perhaps even violated, in an alley almost literally right under his nose? He could hear the cries, the sobs, and he knew the pain of being hurt. He was angry, ready to help the boy… but then he stopped. Sure, he could do something, but the group of savages below, once noticing him as he struck at them, would be up on the roof in a blink, hurting him, finding his hidey-hole and making it unsafe for him to ever return, taking away the next-to-nothing he had.
Now, knowing and comprehending the cost of doing what is right is a fine thing. It shows wisdom, intelligence, the ability to restrain oneself from foolishness. But here is where he makes his great mistake.
He does nothing. He turns his back, hiding, trying to sleep amid the sobbing screams. He abandons his fellow human to the mercy of monsters.
That mistake… that one, terrible sin of protecting his own at the cost of the innocent boy below, has stayed with him for all of his life. He regrets his choice even now, and he does not run from the truth that he did make a choice. He had his reasons, but he refuses to let them be his excuses. Oh, sure, helping the poor boy, a complete stranger, would have cost him dearly, but that would simply have been the price of a better choice. Doing nothing has left him paying a much higher price, wishing he could go back and do differently, but that is never an option.
As he says, “Bones heal. Regret stays with you forever.”
Basically, it’s just a question of which price we choose to pay. We always have a choice.
That might seem harsh, but truth is like that, and it doesn’t care about your circumstances. Doing what is right and compassionate almost always involves risking a loss, risking pain. Doing otherwise, however, guarantees our eternal shame.