My greatest regret is a promise I made and haven't kept

It’s January of a new year, and I am torn between welcoming some new resolutions or mourning some old regrets.



Kate Barnard

Courtesy Connie Cronley

 

It’s January of a new year, and I am torn between welcoming some new resolutions or mourning some old regrets.

The resolutions would be new blue-sky aims and projects. These are appealing because they’re shiny and fresh. The regrets would be projects I didn’t complete and promises I didn’t keep. These are old remorses, dusty with age and weary with being hauled out for yet another inspection. They’re tired of my apologies and promises. “Yeah, sure,” they say to me. “Whatever.”

What is the statute of limitations on personal failures? When do we absolve and forgive ourselves and move on? When do we tell ourselves, “You are never going to do that! Let it go. You’re smoking your own dope.”

And yet. How long do we hold ourselves accountable to ourselves? How many times can we say, “Come on, let’s have one more go at it! This time you’ll do it! Don’t give up on yourself. It’s not over till it’s over.” Lots of exclamation marks in these personal pep talks.

I have only 700 words for this column — not nearly enough space to list all my regrets, but the greatest is a promise I made and have not kept. Several years before she died, Oklahoma’s great historian Angie Debo asked me to write the biography of Kate Barnard, who had been her role model. Dr. Debo was my role model, and I not only leapt to agree, I jumped into the project with vigor. I did research everywhere from Oklahoma City’s Department of Libraries to the Washington, D.C. National Archives. I even got a little research grant from the University of Tulsa. I researched, I read, I wrote on this manuscript for about five years.

And then … And then I took a job that consumed my life. And then another job just like it. And the unfinished manuscript — up through chapter seven — is stored in boxes. It’s a project that ought to be completed.

Kate Barnard was an Oklahoma social reformer at the turn of the century. She was the first woman official elected in the state, Oklahoma’s first Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, and she was a national celebrity. Her career was heroic, but her life was tragic.

She championed child labor laws, compulsory education, prison reform, a juvenile court system and aid to the poor. “Her compassion shone like a candle,” Debo said. Barnard was charismatic, eloquent, fearless and idealistic. She spoke to audiences of 4,000 or more, her voice ringing out clearly in that era before amplifications. National press canonized her as the “Good Angel” of Oklahoma. She was a tiny Irish woman who overworked herself into physical collapse. Despite her fame, she was modest and plain.  “How can I wear diamonds when babies cry for bread?” she asked.

And then, at the height of her power, she began investigating fraud among the guardians of the oil-rich Indian orphans of the state. She had gone too far. “She stopped preaching and started meddling,” one politician said. Grafters and corrupt politicians closed ranks against her. They ruined her state department and her career. She died a recluse in 1930 at age 54.

A couple of books have been written about Kate Barnard. My book will be better. I am beginning this new year, not with regrets and remorse, but with a new resolve. I will resurrect my manuscript and keep my promise. I’ll look at the North Star and say, “Dr. Debo, it ain’t over till it’s over.” I won’t beat myself up about this delayed — not broken! — promise. Instead, I’ll remember the wise women and wise cats I’ve known in my life and all I have learned from them. Cats, especially, have taught me a lot about how to live a contented life.

 

A Cat’s Philosophy of Life

Take every day as it comes.

Get some sunshine.

Take a nap and moderate exercise.

Play a little.

Be a keen observer of your environment.

Once in a while, chase something.

When you eat fish, lick your plate clean.

And don’t ever go to bed wondering if you could have done this day better.

This is the secret of being a happy cat, this new year and every year.

 

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