An old-time friend gave me a call last week and asked if I wanted to be set up with one of her friends. She did the usual, “You two would be perfect for each other”, and I did the usual, “I’m kind of seeing someone, maybe another time”, and we left it at that. We texted our separate ways and stalled a potential match made in heaven brewing for a later date.
But then I read the morning obituaries this week and saw she had been killed in a car accident Monday night. Turns out there won’t be a blind date with this girl after all.
For full effect, download “What If” by Coldplay and play at maximum volume throughout the duration of this post.
I never met this girl. I know nothing about her besides what her Facebook profile picture looks like. I never met her in person, never took her to dinner, never laughed with her about what the waiter was wearing, never had a romantic doorstep scene with her, never took her on a second date, or a third date, or a fourth, or got to meet her parents, or saved up for a ring. None of those cycled steps in a relationship ever happened between the two of us, and because of some freak accident on Monday night, none of that ever will.
But then the mind starts playing tricks in our heads when we’re staring at the ceiling late at night, and begins asking the age-old hindsight-anchored question of “what if?”
What if I had taken her out? What if I did laugh with her about the waiter’s apron? What if we did kiss on her doorstep, and go out for drinks the next night, and meet her parents a month down the road? What if I did take up my friend’s offer for a potentially awesome blind date with this girl?
Then maybe I would quit my search for roommates to fill the two empty rooms in my house, and begin planning on a permanent one getting ready to sign her eternal contract.
That’s the thing about life that sometimes makes you stand in a stupor scratching your head for longer than ten minutes. It is unpredictable. Unreliable. It’s a giant canvas of chaotic madness that has twists and turns so unexpected they knock the wind out of you before you can even blink. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And as I found out this week, sometimes you making a standstill decision about a blind date over a text message will make you ask yourself the rhetorical question late at night while laying in bed of “what if” over and over again, which in all reality is the natural human response to help us all cope with a situation that we just don’t understand.
But let’s just take it a step further, from a little deeper perspective. What if you, and me, and everyone else in their late twenties paddling out the first few steps of our careers decided to go somewhere else for school; like to the U instead of the Y, or to UCLA instead of UNLV? Or in my case, what if I had gone north instead of south? What if I chose Utah State over my Alma Mater Dixie State?
Then maybe you wouldn’t have met the person who crawls into bed with you every night and helps raise those little stinkers snoozing a few bedroom doors over. Maybe you would have put your career as an entrepreneur as your main focus instead of seeing how many kids you can pop out before you turn 30. Maybe you would be bringing home a six-figure income instead of a monthly caseload of diapers. And maybe I wouldn’t be blogging about what it’s like to be a sane single man in Mormon culture.
Or what if you had been placed in much different financial or religious or racial circumstances, thus altering your customary standards due to the money your parents bring home, the God you sit down to worship, or the color your skin looks in the mirror?
Then maybe you wouldn’t be as cocky as you are now, and you would be much more grateful about the clothes on your back and the food in your cupboard. Or maybe you wouldn’t have gone on that one trip to Brazil, or Sweden, or Virginia, or wherever you went and you wouldn’t have had to stand for what you believe in for two whole years. And maybe you wouldn’t feel that guilty about telling a black joke to your buddies.
Or what if that one person who you loved and cared about and had a strong relationship with had not gotten on that airplane, or developed that tumor, or fallen asleep behind that wheel, or loaded that shotgun, thus ending their lives a little bit shorter than you wanted them to?
Then maybe that relationship with them wouldn’t really mean as much to you as it should. Then you wouldn’t have grown as an individual. Then you wouldn’t have realized what it is like to lose something you care about. Then you would still remain as shallow, and undeveloped, and as immature as you were in third grade, and would never have achieved that monumental character development that is only granted by the tragic act of losing someone.
Here’s a good one for you, what if we didn’t think in the past and ask ourselves these unanswered questions every single time a misfortune happened in our lives, thus veering us off the path we thought we were supposed to walk down, the path we felt we were destined for?
Then you, and me, and everybody else out there wouldn't be so controlled by our past, and would all be much greater people.