What would you change?
About ten years after I graduated from Plainview, I ran into an old friend of mine from school. We shared briefly some of the ordeals we’d both suffered during the time we’d been out in the real world. Each of us suffered some long rough patches.
After he told me about his life experiences, I made the comment that most people say, “If only we could go back in time and change things.”
With a serious expression, he said, “I’ve thought about that from time to time, but if I could go back, I wouldn’t change one thing.”
“Seriously? Why not?” I asked.
“Because I learned from those bad experiences.”
After we parted ways, I thought about that. For a long time, up until that point, I wished I could have gone back in time and fixed some things. There were things I wished I’d said to certain people who meant the world to me but I had been too afraid to tell them at the time. I made bad decisions that affected my mind and wished I could have gone a different route with my life. Lost loves. Job opportunities. A horrible first marriage I’d have skipped. Dropping out of college after my first year … I’d have undone that. Many other things would have been done differently, too.
If you’re reading this and are thinking that you’d go back and change things like I once had hoped I could, maybe you’ll understand why I now agree with him. All the heartache and misery I’ve experienced over the years, I wouldn’t change, if given such an opportunity.
I realized if I continued living with such a mindset, I would live a life of regret by constantly looking into the past. If you’re living in the past, you cannot enjoy the present and you will not progress into the future. You’re stuck in one place. I decided to accept the past and realized that I am who I am today because of the hardships I have overcome. Altering those bad situations and mistakes, while it seems a beneficial way to shield ourselves from the hurt we’ve experienced, inevitably disrupts future events and the pathways we were destined to take. Backtracking to change events unravels far more than you realize. For if you erased one path, everything else associated to that path by our decisions (possibly unknown to us) would be altered and erased as well. Quite possibly, situations could end up far worse for us or others.
The term, “Butterfly Effect”, comes from Ray Bradbury’s short story, A Sound of Thunder, wherein a team of hunters time travel into the past to hunt dinosaurs. But they can only kill the dinosaurs the leader shows them, as these are sick and destined to die soon. Their deaths won’t alter the timeline. The hunters are given a warning to stay on the silver pathway lest they destroy something else. One of the hunters accidentally steps off and crushes a butterfly. The first butterfly. This simple mistake offsets everything in the future, causing a catastrophe in itself. Changing the past, ever so slightly, brings disaster.
In an interview, Stephen King once talked about how a person could have turned a different direction and missed their soulmate. Is it destiny? Or chance? An interesting concept to think about.
Reviewing the past in our mind’s eye, we only see how our decisions affected us. Other factors in other people’s lives also occurred at the time due to us, and we might never know about the benefits they received from our failures. Opportunities come in various ways.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand how changing the most painful three years of my life so I didn’t suffer the anguish would unset where I am today. I wouldn’t have my wonderful wife of twenty-six years, my two children, and my two grandchildren. I’d endure those painful years all over, as long as I never lost them. They are the mountain on the other side of a deep, dark valley of turmoil. They are the blessings I had sought for so long. Treasures unmatched by any amount of wealth. Treasures worth trudging through the heartaches all over again.
In nature, forest fires are inevitable. They are devastating when we see them, but a necessary part of nature. Certain conifers cannot reseed without fire. The seeds are trapped inside the cones. Extreme heat is required to melt the wax so the cones expand and release the seeds. Without this pressure, no future pines of these species would emerge. After a forest fire, flowers and other rare plants are finally able to return for a while to reseed as well.
We see the horror of the forest fires. We see the charred remnants afterwards. But, often, no one ever notices the beauty that soon emerges after the fires are gone. The beautiful flowers. New life. Renewed life. This cycle of nature often goes unseen.
Not everything in life is an easy path. Rocky roads and dark valleys test us. They refine us. We fall. We fail. When you reach that time of loss and hit the ground, you have a choice. Stay there and die; or, pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Fight your way onward.
I had low points during those dark times where I almost threw in the towel. I almost quit. I didn’t want to continue living. Dark days, folks. Some very dark days. And it didn’t help having a person pushing me in that direction by making my life unbearable. By some miracle, I shook it off and got back up.
I realize this is my take on the events that have shaped my life. Others have had it far worse than I have. And some have had wonderful lives without much hardship at all.
As I’m currently writing my memoirs, I never realized the depth of some hardships I have endured. I had buried them and bringing them to the surface hasn’t been easy. What I’ve learned from writing about my life is that these events shaped me into who I am. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without the episodes I experienced. Hell, I wouldn’t be a writer at all.
Until next time …. Keep on keeping on!