John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.
For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.
I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”
“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?
In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;
No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
the best of now and here
My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.
Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.
Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.
I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.
Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.
One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.
Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.
What if I live happily ever after?
There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.