Drinking Urine and Eating Livers, or “Oh no! What now?” by Andrew Oberg

The final work in our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcase on the theme of Regret comes from me, Andrew Oberg. I basically throw a wrench into the whole works with this short essay that aims to cut regret open and take a look at what’s inside. I hope you enjoy it.

A different disclaimer!: The following is a nonfiction essay expressing the views of the author solely and not necessarily those of Drugstore Books. Works cited are referenced and valid as of the time of writing.

Drinking Urine and Eating Livers, or “Oh no! What now?” by Andrew Oberg

Regret is a complicated, sticky thing. It can either be used in reference to our behavior or our situations, although typically when we say that we regret something (or that we don’t) we do mean what we’ve done, or, more likely, what we haven’t done but wish we had. We describe feelings of a sense of sorrow, disappointment, and/or loss, pointing to the past to explain that emotion at present. It’s a troubling “what might have been”, a haunting specter that we carry around with us, that we find very difficult to exorcise (for some of us, anyway), and that clouds our current judgments and interactions with others. Perceptive readers will notice something else in play here; if we just add a sense of transgression to our feelings of melancholy and failure then this same description could be applied to another emotion: guilt. Like regret, guilt too is a remorseful “what might have been”, an “if only”, tying up the present with the past, following after us and making the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, though we don’t dare to turn around and look at it. Regret and guilt get mixed up inside us, often overlap, and lead us to talk about them in ways that don’t make it clear just what we mean. It’s true that the former is usually employed when we wish we’d done something differently and the latter when we wish we hadn’t done something that we did, but as we’ll see a little later on, even this doesn’t make the case cut and dry. But maybe we’re overly confusing things. Guilt, after all, carries with it a sense of responsibility, of having committed a wrong, whereas regret doesn’t. Or does it? If regret is usually about what was left undone, can we be responsible for that not done? If we should have acted but we didn’t, do we really think of that as being an offense?

To approach this in a somewhat roundabout way, consider the highly influential 1884 case of Regina v Dudley and Stephens, which involves not a failure to act but acting under duress and the question of mitigating circumstances.* After their ship sunk en route to Australia in the South Atlantic, Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks, and Richard Thomas Parker found themselves adrift in a rowboat with two tins of turnips, no water, and no hope for rescue anytime soon…

To read the rest as a free pdf, click the “Download Now” button below.

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*For full details of the case, its aftermath, and legal result, see here: Lloyd Duhaime, “Cannibalism on the High Seas: the Common Law’s Perfect Storm”, Duhaime.org: LawMag, August 20, 2011. http://www.duhaime.org/LawMag/LawArticle-1320/Cannibalism-on-the-High-Seas-the-Common-Laws-Perfect-Storm.aspx.

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