What if I hadn’t left for work when I did: Would I have been in that pile-up? What if I had just finished college: Where would I be today? What if I hadn’t gone to that recording studio party? Would I have eventually met and married Sandie anyway? What if… what if… what if…
We all do it. What if I had done this — or that — or the other? Major life changes hinge on the choices we make. Sometimes they’re big and important decisions. If, for instance, my sister hadn’t decided to attend Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina I would not be in High Point right now. In 1974, she went to Catawba, graduated in 1978, wanted to stay in North Carolina, and has lived here ever since.
My mom and dad, when they got a few years past retirement, wanted to live near one of us kids, and they picked Kendra, the reliable one. I was in radio, and kept moving — from Orlando to Daytona Beach to Honolulu back to Daytona Beach and back to Orlando. It was then I met Sandie at the studio party.
Therefore, if I hadn’t met Sandie that afternoon, I never would have moved to Pennsylvania, where she grew up. I would never have worked for Penn State. I would never have met some of the best people I have ever known.
Oddly enough, although my soon-to-be-ex wife and I met — once — in State College, if I hadn’t gone to Illinois, we never would have reconnected, we would not have been married and I would have — been better off? Not be going through the marriage break-up I’m now enduring? I have no idea. And, come to think of it, if I had never gone to that studio party and met Sandie and moved to Pennsylvania, I never would have met my soon-to-be ex wife either.
I’ve been fascinated with this sort of thing for a long time. And there’s a philosophical question involved here. If I hadn’t… If only I had… I could have… I would have…. but it is useless.
Are there alternative outcomes to our choices? I think some of the more esoteric physicists posit that there are an infinite number of universes in which all possible outcomes of each decision everyone makes are played out. Or am I thinking of science fiction writers? Either way, it makes no difference.
Once the decision is made, once the thing has been done, once the path has been taken, it results in the only possible outcome, if only because that particular outcome is the one that resulted. And from that derives a quite overused sentence — but one that is heavy with meaning when properly deployed: “It is what it is.”
Even though I realize the games of What If… and If Only… are useless, and lead to agonizing regrets, I’ve been playing them a lot lately. What if… I hadn’t lost my job at Wake Forest University, would I still be happily married? If Only…. I had seen the red flags, would the outcome have been different?
I am trying to stop playing those games. They are quite useful to the authors of alternative history novels, which can be quite fascinating. What if… the Nazis had won WWII? What if… Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated?
But to those of us who are trying to stay on the paths of our lives, whatever they may be, playing What If… or If Only… are more than useless. They are dangerous. Although we can learn from the mistakes we make, regret is a wasted emotion. No amount of regret or What if…. or If Only… will change the past, and will not alter our present.