The What If Game

My life these days is incredibly drama free and peaceful.  Well, for the most part it is.  There’s the occasional tense moment that occurs when living with other people in an arrangement designated by most as family, but compared to the past two decades, my life is exceptionally drama free.  In fact, compared to most people, my life is exceptionally drama free. 

This doesn’t mean my life is boring.  Nor is it lackluster. 

Life with me is always very animated, that’s for sure. 

Life with me has a certain bit of comedy and theatrics to it, I’ll warrant, but drama?  Hmmm, not so much. 

 Here’s a typical day in my life these days:

After awakening and the deplorable hour of 9:00 a.m., I head back into the house after picking up the morning paper from the walk and turning on the sprinkler. I flop down on my large overstuffed and very comfy couch to browse through the meaningless empty print that constitutes the local paper. Later, I will spend an hour playing around on Facebook, looking up old tunes and listening to them on Youtube and doing whatever it is I want or nothing at all. It is an amazingly charmed life I live these days. On these days in particular, the ones where the kids are all gone at the other parents’ home and I have no deadlines or obligations except to take care of just me, it is not unlike being retired.  I do what I want when I want.  After running around crazy all school year long and being at the beck and call of four children with active academic and social lives and none of them driving, it is nice to just be able to do nothing at all. It is a luxury most single mothers don’t get.  I am very aware of this and incredibly grateful.  While most single parents (except for the exceptionally wealthy ones) have to get up every day, even during the summer, and rush off to a job only to come home and do the second shift then later fall exhausted into bed only to start the entire exercise wheel process over again, I do not have to do this for nearly 3 months of every year. It’s true I pay for it during the school year when I have no life, but it is worth it because on days like today, life is anything but pressured, harried, exhausting or stressed. 

 Of course, I could and have been caught up in that desire for the crazy lifestyle that rewards one with a penthouse view and status and money in the bank.  I was there many years ago, working in the San Francisco Bay area and commuting into my entry level management position with lots of promotional potential and making big money to cover the relatively low overhead I had at the time. Had I continued down that track, I am certain I would be enjoying a very different life than I am now.  I’d be living in a very different setting, doing very different things with very different people.  Part of me, at times wonders, how might my life have been different?

 Do you ever do this? Wondering how your life might be different if…if?  I call it “The What If Game”.  I suspect everyone spends time on this game show at one time or another. 

If I’d kept that job in the Bay Area instead of staying married and returning to Oregon.

 If I’d gone into journalism instead of teaching. 

 If I’d studied law instead of going to work.

 If I’d stayed single longer.

 If I’d married that boy instead of breaking it off.

If I’d…if I’d…if I’d….

The choice made, a job offer accepted or refused, an apartment rented instead of a home purchased, a family delayed or started unexpectedly or not at all, a relationship passed on, another fully explored and furthered. A vice casually stumbled upon which grips you insidiously till you realize one day it has you beyond your control.  A thought, a glance, a brief and casual encounter….the cumulative effect of the smallest insignificant encounters, like grains of sand on the beach, become strong enough and monumental enough to create a lifetime.  One little tweak in the design and the picture can be drastically altered.

 Choices.  Decisions.  Cause and effect.  Outcomes.  Paths not taken or taken that we can never retrace in order to change directions.  Nope.  Unlike getting lost on a road and simply turning the car around and going back in the direction from whence we came, life doesn’t allow u-turns.  Even if it did, the passage of time, our own maturing and that of others, the births and deaths of those we love, all these events change the path and the scenery along the way.

This is as it should be.  Even if it is not as it should be it is how it is.

When I go down the mental “I wonder” path, I never do this with regret.  I can’t regret.  I’ve learned too much and grown too much down the road I did travel to worry about it. I do it with curious interest and speculation. Yes, my life, had I made different choices at each juncture, would be very, very different.  But would it be better?  Worse?  Who knows?  I don’t care.  What I find important at this point is that I take less and less for granted these days. I’m glad for the paths I’ve traveled, the lessons I’ve learned, the ones I’m trying to master even now and the person I’ve become as the result.  I am so very content in many ways.

While I don’t sit around and dwell over the consequences of every little action, decision or behavior, I do enjoy contemplating the idea that you never know what path you might be heading down next.  Even when you think you know the path, even when you think you are choosing a particular direction to head, what the journey looks like and where you end up can be very, very different than you imagined.  It’s fun to just enjoy the journey rather than stressing out about when, where and how I’m going to get to the blasted destination. Of course, I don’t always feel this peaceful and un-rushed about it all. There are deadlines that loom and more tasks to accomplish than time to accomplish them most of the time, of course.  I know this.  

On summer days like these, though, it just really easy to appreciate the fact that life really is a series of journeys instead of a destination you head for.  With the stress of the daily routine temporarily at bay, it is fun to sit back and speculate about the road behind, the current road and the path(s) ahead.  I do this with just a mild amount of interest and anticipation.  It will be fun to look back a year from now and see how different things look from how they currently appear. 

 Until then, The What If Game holds no interest to me, because I’m too busy playing The What Next Game.  Where are you today?  Are you playing the What If Game and wishing you’d made different choices or are you grateful for the journey you’ve been on and are you looking forward to what’s around the corner?

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