Sailing on the ship of “what if”

MP900145454Boston. We’ve been thinking of Boston this week, watching the news or avoiding the news and wondering if it’s a fluke or a whole school of troubled water. Some of us dare not ask what if we had been there at the finish line or what if it had happened closer to home or what if we were shut-in our houses while a wounded nineteen year-old boy was laid out in fear. What if Ben Affleck makes a movie about it?

Church. I’ve been thinking about Church this week, and holding the shards it has shot through our home. It’s a body, too, you know. And bodies are fragile – they get cancer and ticks lodged in their necks and they bend in Gumbi-like yoga poses and crack in operatic wails. They bury bombs.

I never liked asking what if. Growing up, I had a knack for imagining the worst, a sort of choose-your-own-adventure of nightmarish possibilities. “Worry about nothing but pray about everything” was paraphrased from the book of Philippians. Accept things as they are. Don’t dwell on what might have been. Look toward the hope of all that could be and let that be that place for wild minds.

I recently read a letter to an advice columnist from a man who was a little over forty and wondering when he would know, really know, if he wanted to have kids, and how there was just no telling if in ten years time he would feel relief or regret over a decision made. How then to move forward when to ask what if seemed futile?

Did I tell you yet that the advice columnist’s name is Sugar? Her response was as crystalline as her name. She recalled a line from Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s “The Blue House” in which he stands in the woods, looking toward his home, and meditating on all that might have been within its walls. He observes, “Our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route.” Sugar put it this way: “We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: the people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are.”

And so she tells her dear reader to pursue the what if of dreams, pursue it the horizon as only your imagination can. It  helps little to put ourselves back at the scene of what already has been but we can splay ourselves out on the floor with diagrams of what might be for your life. Does this sound sacrilegious? Like we are masters of our own destiny? The sort of “today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town” kind of thinking that was condemned by the apostle James? “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes,” he assures.

My husband and I played the what if game last week on another one of our epic walk and talks. What if we stayed in Durham five more years? Or how about ten? Would we still be tinkering away on home improvements? Would I still be working till noonday in my pajamas and he some fifteen miles away? Would we still be attending separate churches as separate bodies? And which Body was strong enough to hold us together but supple enough to embrace our differences?

The “what ifs” aren’t all bad, really. Truthfully, I think they are better than “it is what it is.” Lord knows we can’t see but two feet or two days in front of us. Lord knows. But this is how we move forward out of the wreckage. By setting a course in one direction, foregoing all others for the time being, and saying, “In light of what I do know about the world and myself in it, this is the person I intend to be.”

It’s the wind that takes care of the rest.

On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty. Today is such a day. – Rumi

2 responses to “Sailing on the ship of “what if”

  1. Thought-provoking. Thank you.

  2. Erin,
    I just finished reading all of your blogs. Happy to tell you, I feel proud of you, loved by you & now feel like I love others more. I’m now ready for a peaceful sleep.
    God has blessed you with many gifts. So happy to have just experienced one of them!
    have a real gift, Erin.

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