01/03/2011 08:05 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Should've-Would've-Could've Template for a Better New Year

Before planting final goodbye kisses on Christmas, many find themselves revisiting yesteryear to see how they'd do things differently, using the Should've-Would've-Could've rule to make amends, whether that means to improve our surroundings, kick bad habits or build stronger relationships. Not too unlike those millions of Americans, I too, used Dec. 31 as a day of reflection for spiritual and emotional growth and betterment by learning more about myself using a man named Richard as my moral compass.

I met Richard decades ago. He owned an old military surplus shop located in an eclectic part of my city, a melting pot full of artists, professionals and clinging-to-the era-forever-hippies. Richard's business thrived in between a sushi diner and a Dolly Parton / Alan Jackson dream-themed leather goods store.

Richard was a Vietnam veteran and fought his own postwar demons with a fisted bottle of alcohol, I suspected. He was somewhat shy and had simple ways, which I tuned into immediately. As his trust in my friendship grew over the years, Richard opened up, became comfortable with my brief visits and began talking.

And talking.

Half the time, I admit, my mind didn't follow, and I would be looking for an escape, an excuse, a quarter of the way into the conversation. But it was Richard's candid simplicity that always tugged at my heart. I'd find myself picking up my pace to hurry past and to sometimes avoid his always open-door business. And then there'd come the tug. I'd sigh, stop, then turn around to poke my head into his shop for a brief chat.

Though the years had taken their toll, Richard still held on to some of his boyish charm, claimed to have a girlfriend in another state (although I didn't quite buy this one), and was crazy in love with his roommate: an obese, cantankerous old tomcat.

His beloved cat.

Richard survived a war, cancer and whatever else life threw at him, but he couldn't survive his pet.

Two Christmases ago, Richard tripped over his cat, crashed through his second-story plate-glass window and plummeted to his death.

Richard, here's what I didn't tell you, should've told you, and wish I had: You had a sweet smile. I see it now, but didn't appreciate it then. I'm sorry.

Richard, walking into your store was like stepping into Eden's rotted apple field, but it held a lot of interesting historic artifacts. Historic, starting with you. I would've learned a lot about history if only I'd been a better student. I'm sorry.

Richard, the minute I'd walk into your shop, I would always keep one hand on the door, instead of dragging a stool across concrete and up to the counter, even though I knew you were lonely and just needed a friend. I could've easily taken the extra fifteen minutes needed to validate that. I'm sorry.

Richard, when you'd pull the picture(s) out of your wallet and proudly hand it to me, my heart would sink. I expected it to be a newfound love, not your cat. I simply couldn't/didn't appreciate or approve, worrying that the grand attention given to it was at the expense of your human ties. I'm sorry.

Richard, I never remembered your cat's name, no matter how many times over the years you told me. I'm sorry.

Richard, although I'm a professed cat lover, I always hated your damn cat.

I'm not sorry.