There are a few decisions I've made in my life that I wouldn't change for the world. The woman I married, for example; or my decision to attend graduate school. Or my ongoing and often fruitless effort keep extra napkins in the glove compartment ... all of them are decisions that have had their benefits in one way or another.
But if the universe can be described in just one word, it's “balanced.” Unfortunately, when it comes to life's major decisions, it seems more often than not that one good decision can only be counterbalanced by twenty preceding bad ones. You know, the kind of decisions you regret almost immediately and that usually come in the form of saying something remarkably stupid (a condition I think the medical profession refers to as “verbal diarrhea”).
I'm always intrigued by the old familiar question, “What if?” What if I could go back and change some of the choices I've made, knowing then what I know now? And what if I could relive one of the thousands of instances in my life when it would have been to my discretion to act differently? What if I spelled “ambidextrous” correctly in the fourth grade spelling bee, or answered a few questions differently at my first job interview? What if I could go back and take road A instead of road B, or better yet, take the shortcut and avoid choosing between Roads A and B altogether? Would life really be any better?
When I was a kid, I shared a Nintendo gaming system with my brother. Of the 20 or so games we had, Super Mario Bros. was my favorite, namely because the objective was pretty simple. There was no backstory to follow, and no in-depth strategy or high-level thinking skills were required. It was just run and hop until I reached the end of each level. And when things got off to a rocky start in level 1, it was easy enough to push the little red reset button and begin my game anew, knowing what to do and more importantly, what not to do to in order for my bouncing little plumber man to save Princess Peach from Bowser's fortress. The reset button was a clean slate – an opportunity to do things differently
What if life, like Nintendo, had a reset button or better yet, a “redo” button? Who would use it? Some argue their life would be better and their reasons are justifiable. After all, when the outcomes of bad decisions are known, certainly very few people would make the same mistake twice. That little redo button would open up a world of untapped opportunities, thereby liberating them of the hurtful, negative consequence and instead, replace them with an otherwise rare second opportunity that's “oh so golden.”
Yet despite all its advantages, I personally can't say I would ever use such a device. That, of course, is far different than saying the temptation wouldn't exist; but as I already mentioned, there are some decisions in life I wouldn't trade for the world. Personally, the best things in my life – my wife, my faith, my job, a dresser drawer full of dry socks for when I step in the one small puddle of water on the kitchen floor – wouldn't have been made possible without mistakes along the way. I believe every mistake, every missed opportunity, and every horrible little detail of my life eventually leads to something better.
In his autobiography, Gene Wilder contended that every decision one makes defines one’s future. It’s a theory most might refer to as “fate.”
“Suppose you're walking out of the Plaza Hotel in New York City,” he wrote. “You want to go directly across the street to Bergdorf's Men's Shop on Fifth Avenue, but the Plaza fountain is directly in your path … You can get to the shop on Fifth Avenue by walking around the fountain on the path to your left, or by taking the path to your right. I believe that whichever choice you make could change your life.”
Well said. Perhaps the desire to know what could have been is merely a waste of a future.
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