Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "What Ifs" of Life

Life is chock full of “what ifs.”

At present I am in southern California, a place I called home for ten years when I migrated here from my home in western New York. I spend a lot of time here in Simi Valley and Moorpark, where I lived on over 30 acres of open land before it became a city park backed by a major shopping center. Every time I come for a visit I am reminded of my years here and sometimes wish I still called California home. What if, I often wonder, I had been able to come up with the money to purchase the land before it was developed in the name of progress? I can tell you that the money that was so hard to come by back then in the late 1980s would have quadrupled by now. Only if I’d not been too poor!
My girls in the yard of our Moorpark home, circa 1983
It’s easy to look back over one’s life and question the choices we’ve made. Regrets, in my opinion, are a waste of time; but reflection is a worthy activity.

I’ve had people ask me, “what if your parents had lived?” To that I’m pretty sure of my answer: I would no doubt be a devoted daughter still living in the same small town that I was born in. I come to that conclusion based on seeing my cousins doing just that. Although I seem to have inherited my mother’s gregarious nature, I am pretty sure I would not have strayed too far from home. But, who knows?
Batavia, New York
When I was trying to get into the exclusive Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College, it was more chance than determination that saw me succeed. I was in Spokane, Washington at the time the letter inviting me for an interview arrived at my New York address, so I was not aware I needed to respond before my spot was taken. The assistant director of the program, Lynne Doria, was just about to do just that when she happened to mention me, someone she didn’t even know, to her then-boyfriend, a guy who happened to come from Buffalo, New York, same as me. He prodded her to “give the girl another chance.” The second notice made it to me; I got my interview and my spot in the program. What if I’d missed that shot? All I can say is I am so grateful to that man I’ve never met.

Performiing in EATM's Big Top Circus, 1979

What ifs can drive you crazy!

What if I’d been born an Afghanistan woman, not a free American?

What if the guy who offered me a ride that I naively accepted on a walk home from school in junior high, who reached over and stroked my leg hadn’t stopped and let me out when I said, “That’s my house! Let me out!”?

What if I’d never allowed my first husband to convince me to marry him? I would not have the two amazing women who made me a proud Mom in my life. Nor would their offspring be here to give me great joy.

What if I had not trusted myself enough to go back to school? Would I fall back on being a waitress for the rest of my life? I know I wouldn’t be writing. I would not have the opportunity to research and teach, as I am doing now. The choice to put myself out there with the risk of failure was frightening, but oh, the benefits I’ve reaped.

Yes, what ifs are fun to reflect upon and provide a wonderful opportunity to see life’s journey from then until now. There are, to be sure, moments I wish I could take back, roads I almost wish I’d traveled, but as I mentioned I don’t believe in regrets. And, hey, there are a lot more choices ahead of me where I can contemplate future “what ifs.”

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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