Words never cease to amaze me—not only collectively, in their number, their sounds, their complexity, and the infinite number of ways in which they can be linked together to convey thoughts and emotions, but as individual words.
I've long ago given up any attempt to figure out why specific words will present themselves in my head and refuse to go away until I've entertained them awhile and let them carry me to places I had no original intention of going.
Today, for whatever reason, I was thinking of the simple word “if” (“introducing a conditional clause
• on the condition or supposition that; in the event that”). I realized just how powerful a word it is when it comes to evoking emotion. When used in reference to past events, it is more often than not relates to regret or unhappiness—to opportunities lost, to choices not made, to directions not taken. It is human nature to constantly wonder how things might have been different had certain words been said or not been said; had we done something differently from what we did. And there are few things more frustrating or futile than to speculate on these things.
“Ifs” applied to past actions and events are, for far too many people, anchors weighing down the heart and soul and hindering growth and progress. I doubt there are very many humans who would not want to be able to go back and change something painful in their past that might have been averted had we acted differently.
I myself have a long litany of “ifs past,” of so many stupid, ill-considered, and hurtful-to-myself-and-others things I've said and done that I wish with all my heart I had not. I suspect the same may be true with you. I would give anything to cash in an “if” each time to have avoided them. But there are few things more futile or wasteful—or common—than dwelling on things which cannot be changed. A word once said cannot be unsaid, an action once taken can, while it may at times be patched over or repaired, but cannot be changed. While “ifs past” almost always are born of regret, “ifs future” are more often seeds of hope. “Ifs future” can be blueprints for sketching out growth and positive courses of action.
The word “if” is the fulcrum on which the future is balanced. To do one thing rather than the other changes, subtly or profoundly, every instant of your future from that moment on. I've always held, in an out-of-left-field digression, that time travel into the past would be impossible because the traveler's mere presence in a time in which he did not belong would in and of itself alter and thereby negate the world from which he left. At some point, travel into the future might be conceivable if only because it would not be destroying anything in the past, though it might damage the fulcrum on which the future from that point on rests.
The only logical and positive way of dealing with “ifs past” is to totally accept the fact that they are past and there is nothing at all we can do about them accept, hopefully, learn from them and do our best not to recreate the situations from which they emerged.
It may not be easy, but since there is no other real alternative, I might as well give it a try. Care to join me?