I believe that playing the “What If?” game is dangerous.
It happens all the time.
“What if I hadn’t eaten that last bit of dessert?”
“What if I hadn’t turned my back on a friend?”
“What if I hadn’t had that last drink?” What if…what if…what if…
All seemingly harmless questions, but when you look at them again, they aren’t so harmless. They allude to serious feelings that people may be facing within themselves: issues of self worth, shame, sadness, and regret.
I was sitting in our white-walled basement the summer before I entered the fifth grade, enthralled by whatever new computer game I happened to be playing with. The blue carpet was bristly and rough under my bare, tanned feet and I hadn’t a care in the world; all that mattered was getting to the next level. Earlier that Sunday morning, I’d whined about waking up before the sun had risen just to get to church, and unexpectedly, my dad had decided to just take my brother and leave without me instead of putting up any sort of a resistance. He wasn’t happy with me, I could tell, but he wasn’t yelling about it either, so I just let the matter drop.
Wasting away the morning with video games, I hadn’t noticed when my family had come home. The next thing I know, my mother is shouting down the stairs for me to take my younger brother and stay in the basement until she came and got us. I was confused; didn’t she understand? I was preoccupied!
The truth was, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that there was an ambulance in my driveway, that my father was unconscious and sprawled out on the grass in the backyard, that my grandma was hysterical, or that my mom was just barely keeping it all together. It was then that the questions began.
“What if I had gone to church?”
“What if we hadn’t fought that morning?”
“What if I’d told him I loved him that day?”
“What if I’d spent some time with my dad?”
Could he still be alive?
It took me years to come to terms with the fact that his heart was in bad shape, and nothing I could have done that day would have made a solid difference. Still, those ‘What Ifs’ have had the power to drag me down into an abyss of shame, a place where nothing exists except for flashes of the fear I felt that day and the numbing sense of loss.
I hope to, one day, no longer allow those uncertainties to color my past, taint my present, or darken my future because playing that ‘Maybe’ game truly is dangerous. It has only one mission: to breed negative emotions within oneself that may never leave.
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