Heavens. That sounds tragic and formidable. But it is THE most powerful message I could lead with for my newest category, i.e., The Sensepiration Files.

I’ll just dig right in and we’ll collectively admit that some amount of living life includes one, two or a few transgressions…regrets…things that keep us up at night. If you have more than that, I’ll just refer you now to a future post (The Sensepiration Files: Forgiveness).

The key to dealing with these, ahem, regrets is how you use them to better yourself moving forward. And I had something so rattling happen to me at 22 that I promised myself that nothing of that magnitude would occur at my own hand ever again. After more than 25 years, this lesson remains a critical compass I use to maneuver my way through life, grounding and inspiring me and the choices I make.

My story involves a spouse, his brother, some amazing friends and great work colleagues, an amazing mid-western city and well, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yes, the man was involved.

Stevie Ray Vaughn

It was mid-1988 when I packed up and moved to the Midwest. Hottest summer on record and the only Iowa corn that survived the oppressive heat and drought was from the set of Field of Dreams in Dyersville. I’d left behind my music studies in WV to marry my teenage sweetheart who had moved there the year before to continue his education. And while I’d left the study of music behind me, the music itself, of course, went with me.

I hadn’t really given it much thought – the fact that I would be sitting literally every day on the banks of the wide, grand Mississippi river, and a mere two hours from Chicago. A whole new world of sound was about to wrap itself around me and become something fundamental to who I am — I had no idea what was coming. More than once, I would sit among a half million on the grassy lawns of Grant Park, eating BBQ and drinking way too much, watching the city lights sparkle to life, enamored with the parade of blues talent taking the stages at the annual Chicago Blues Festival. I would spend many lunch hours, afternoons and evenings in front of the band shells along the Quad Cities’ riverfront parks, learning about this thing, these Mississippi blues, from my new circle of friends.

Over the course of the time I lived in Davenport, where besides music and friends, I enjoyed white Christmases again, adjusted to howling winter winds, learned that thunder rolls forever without mountains to stop it and how to read the strangely green, twisting summer skies, and the best part, the sweet smell of corn forever hanging in the air. I knew my time there wasn’t permanent and a part of the young, early 20s me had already embraced the wisdom of enjoying and being happy in the present moment.

Even still, I was a long way from figuring it all out. Early on I had set the stage for making my huge mistake. These awesome friends offered several times to include me in road trips to places like Iowa City to see SRV and Double Trouble as they launched the In Step tour, the album that would be their last. I declined because like many newly marrieds, I thought it always had to be “us” and could not ever just be “me”. At least two of the trips that I passed on even involved backstage passes and meeting Vaughan in person. Twinges of regret #1 and #2.

But as we were wrapping up the summer of 1990, enjoying our last few months living in Iowa, there was great anticipation for a concert that would be happening at the end of August in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, just a few short hours from where we lived. The lineup was beyond incredible with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and the Robert Cray Band. The second show on Saturday night would be a jam session that added Buddy Guy and Jimmy Vaughan to the stage. Having an opportunity to see such a show would be the perfect way to conclude my last few weeks in the Midwest. However, being young in the workforce and anticipating upcoming moving expenses, there was little chance we could afford tickets. I was virtually resigned to missing another music moment.

Then that thing called friendship happened. Quietly, my friends/co-workers rallied with the rep of the local classic rock station that of course had the standard bank of promotional tickets. One morning as I set my purse down on my desk, I looked down to find not one ticket, but four (!) tickets to the 2nd show on August 26th lying in my chair. It was a happy, incredulous moment that I appreciate to this day. There was much squealing and chattering – as well as a few rounds of shots later that day to thank my friends for taking care of me.

Now, I know you’re wondering what happened that landed me in my deep puddle of regret. A few days before the momentous weekend, I learned that my (first) husband’s family had generously volunteered us to take in my slightly younger brother-in-law. For many reasons, it wasn’t a good idea, and the last of those reasons was the timing. He was to move in literally the day before we road tripped to Wisconsin. I reluctantly agreed, with the assumption that he’d just use one of the four free tickets and he’d go with us to the show.

The conversation I had in bed with my (first) husband that Friday night was brief but I won’t ever forget it. He said “I think we should skip the concert tomorrow night…the traffic and parking will be horrible…blah, blah, blah…it’s my brother’s first day in town…blah, blah, blah.” I took a deep breath and in the spirit of compromise (if you can call it that), said “I suppose you’re right, OK.” And then he said those horrible words, “besides, it’s not like you won’t get another chance to see him again.”

Right. Do I need to tell you the rest?

I remember Monday was rough for us all. But the worst moment that day was when the generous rep stopped by to give me an early copy of Family Style and to commiserate on the tragic news. He also wanted to hear what I thought about the concert itself. Let me tell you there were no words to describe the regret I felt. Regret I had passed on so many opportunities, especially this last one, and regret especially for having to admit that I let someone talk me out of using a gift that friends had worked so hard to secure for me. But I want to be clear. I blamed no one but me.

I vowed as I stood there that from that point on to always weigh my options carefully, to always, ALWAYS remember how short life is, to not let others hold me back, and to do all I can to not miss precious opportunities.

Occasionally people comment on how I live life larger than most. This is why.