We exist in a realm of “what ifs”. From the abstract to the concrete, we allow our minds to wander into the unknown: What if I’d turned left back at the light? (Maybe I wouldn’t be stuck in traffic now.) What if I had chosen a different career path? (Maybe I wouldn’t be in debt now.) What if I had been born into a different family? (Maybe I would be smarter/more self-assured/TAN.) What if I hadn’t been afraid and just gone after what I really wanted? (Maybe I would be happy.) What if, what if, what if?
Twenty years later, a series of “what ifs” still haunt me. What if we had put the yard sale off another weekend? (Maybe she wouldn’t have died.) What if she hadn’t stayed to help me clean up? (Maybe she wouldn’t have died.) What if she hadn’t come back for the ice cream? (Maybe she wouldn’t have died.) What if we hadn’t stayed up so late the night before? (Maybe she wouldn’t have died.) What if, what if, what if?
Today, I’d love to tell you about my sister’s sweet, gentle, quiet spirit… but since she didn’t have one, I will tell you she was moody and argumentative and rebellious and jealous. She was a “kick butt and take names” kinda gal. And she was passionate and energetic and fun and determined and beautiful and strong-willed and, yes, naturally tall, thin and blonde. Ugh. She wasn’t one to sit and wait. If she wanted to do something, she did. Or at the very least, she tried. And above all else, she loved fiercely.
“What if” my sister hadn’t died in that crash twenty years ago today? Who knows. Life would be different for my entire family. Much better, no question. I could write an essay about her passion, or share an unending stream of memories, or bring you to tears with my feelings about the hole her absence has left in our lives, but truth is, you’re only politely interested. And that’s okay. She was, after all, MY sister, not yours. We all have our own losses and stories and empty places, and it’s enough that we can empathize and rejoice and grieve with each other.
I miss her. Every stinkin’ day, I miss her. I miss her fire. I miss her heart for kids. I miss singing with her. I miss all the things I would have learned from her as we transitioned from “big sister & little sister” into “friends & equals”.
What I think I’ve finally been able to take from her life is the ability to mesh rebellion and determination into something worthwhile. What I have learned is: You cannot live your life asking “what if” retroactively. Well, you CAN, but nothing productive comes from it. Sure, maybe you SHOULD have. Maybe you COULD have. But second-guessing your past will settle you into an unending funk of regret and sadness. This I understand all too well.
So I’m taking all of those past-tense “what ifs” and replacing them with present-tense ones. “What if” I stop complaining? “What if” I stop procrastinating? “What if” I stop waiting and start doing? “What if” I stop making excuses and be who I was meant to be?
“If only” I had learned this sooner.