“What if…. ?” It’s one of those frustrating questions we tend to ask ourselves over and over, making up scenarios that would be a better alternative to what really happened. After all, regret has this funny way of making us think, “What if I’d ____? Could I fix things?” or, “What if I hadn’t _____? Could I have saved them?” It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, as I mull over thoughts brought up by the anniversary of my great-grandmother’s passing. Following Re:Zero and watching Orange has only furthered my train of thought on the matter. So, heads up, if you continue reading, there will be plot spoilers for Re:Zero up to episode 7, and Orange up to episode 6.
Re:Zero and Orange both deal closely with the idea of time travel, and the ability to undo or redo things in your past to “fix” your future. In Re:Zero, Subaru gets his Reset by Death, allowing him to get a second attempt at certain events, this time knowing the outcome. In Orange, Naho is warned by her future self that if nothing is done to save him, her friend Kakeru will commit suicide. Her future self begs her to please do something to keep him from making the same choice this time around. In both shows, the protagonists are suddenly given a chance to really act out their future “what if”s.
Now, Subaru and Naho react differently to this newfound chance to change the future. Their situations are very different, after all; where Subaru gets as many chances as he wants, Naho only gets one shot. However, each of them have a few things in common with how they react to their chance(s). They each try tackling the problem solo, shouldering the whole weight of it alone, before learning that not only can they not do it alone, but they don’t need to. They also both grapple with regrets and learn the hard way not to take things for granted.
A year ago, I lost my great-grandmother. Her health had been on a slow decline for some time, but a sudden accident led to a very sudden progression of the problems, and within four days, she had passed. The granny flat where she lived still sits at the end of our driveway – we now use it as a makeshift “studio” and “gym”. While down there alone the other day, I found myself feeling lonely. I realized just how lonely it is down there with no one else nearby. Suddenly, I was knee-deep in regret, as I realized how few times I had visited her. I had no real excuses. She lived at the end of my driveway. I drove past her twice a day, on my way to and from school. I found myself wondering if she ever felt that same loneliness as she sat in her chair and watched TV alone, knowing her family was only a driveway away.
She was never really alone, for the record. My grandma (her daughter) and grandpa were often down there. This became especially true as her health declined. By that point, my regrets had already begun – I knew I didn’t have much time left with her, and I knew I’d taken for granted what I could have had before then. The moment in episode 6 when Naho realizes that her choice to ignore her warning (“This is the one day I don’t want you to invite Kakeru. Seriously.”) was linked to the very reason Kakeru needs saving struck a really deep chord with me. As she was plagued with regrets, wondering why she hadn’t been smarter before, I empathized with that struggle. The concept of “even though I knew, why did I do nothing?”
Now, once I learned in around June/July last year that my great-grandma had months at most, I did finally decide to do something. I made a point to visit her more often. Particularly in her last few days. I was one of the few people who stuck by her comatose self until she passed. Could I save her? No. Could I undo all the missed chances I had passed up to spend time with her before then? No. In a way, it reminds me of Subaru’s sudden insistence to save everyone, which many have argued, since the show progressed, was fueled not by selflessness but rather a selfish wish to quell his own guilt and regrets. I can empathize with Subaru on that matter. He kept asking “what if” he’d only acted a certain way? Could he have saved everyone? His repeated self-sacrifice to change the future was because of his inability to live with his regrets. In some ways, maybe my insistence to be at that bedside until the end was my own stubborn, willful way of trying to say “I’m sorry” for all the times I hadn’t been there before, since I’ll never know the answers to “what if she was lonely? What if I had visited more?”
Regret is never fun. Just as Naho and Subaru learned that, I’ve been reminded of that recently. That’s also brought up the question of “how do I deal with it?” Sadly, there’s no one answer to that question. Everyone deals with regret differently. There’s no right or wrong answer to that. However, there are a few words of wisdom that apply to everyone.
At the end of episode 6, Naho learns that her friend Suwa also received a letter, just like she did. She realizes that she’s not alone. As her future self already knows, her whole group of friends is dealing with that regret together. They all lost Kakeru, and they all struggle to accept the his passing. When you’re dealing with regret, you need to remember you are never alone. Regret is an almost universal experience – even if someone’s not regretting the same thing, sometimes just talking it out with someone else who’s experienced their own regret can feel a lot better. As a Christian, I also find comfort in remembering that God knows my heart better than I myself know it. He knows my regrets and understands why I feel them. I am always allowed to talk about them with Him – not to mention, always allowed to pray for His peace and his help accepting that I cannot change the past.
In Re:Zero, Subaru learns how important it is not to take what you have for granted. In episode 6, he learns that Rem is the assailant who has continued to kill him. After having grown very close to both Rem and Ram in episodes 4-6, this is a crushing realization for him. In episode 7, he successfully avoids being killed… but the price is Rem’s life. Subaru is forced to realize that the happy life he’d been living at the Roswaal Mansion is gone. He had taken it for granted, assuming it would always be there for him when he Reset, only to have it now taken away. All of those happy memories with Rem and Ram are tainted by the regret he feels due to his self-assigned responsibility for Rem’s death and Ram’s rage. In his next Reset, he most certainly values those moments much more preciously and does not take them for granted.
Just like Naho and Subaru, you will face (or maybe already have faced) regrets in your life. Unlike Naho, you’re not going to get a letter from your future self that can help you avoid the bigger regrets. Unlike Subaru, you won’t get to see how things will play out, then go back and try it differently. You can’t change the past. You just have to live with it. If you get too caught up asking “what if… ?” and wasting time and effort imagining a past that could have been and never was, you’re going to miss the present. You’re going to unintentionally take what you have now for granted, and before you know it, your present may become another regret in your past. Your life will be significantly less enjoyable if you ponder “what if”s instead of learning from your past regrets and using those lessons to improve your present and future.
Let Naho be a reminder that you never have to deal with regret alone, let Subaru be a reminder not to take what you have for granted, and let your “what if”s be focused on your future, not the regrets of your past.