by Jane Tawel
What If — Instead Of’s
By Jane Tawel
May 26, 2020
I have more time lately, and reason, to meditate on all the “What If’s” and “Instead Of’s”. Some days, this is instructive and hopeful, such as “What if we realize people in essential services need to be paid more in the future and billionaires need to be paid less?” And some days, this is mind numbingly depressing and futile, such as “What if they win again, and Canada still has closed borders?” Perhaps we all have been made more aware of this frame- work of Possibility Thinking during this “Impossible- to- Imagine- It- Could- Happen-In-Our-Lifetimes” Time. I mean, even dear John Lennon, didn’t “Imagine” this. I truly hope and pray that with all we are all thinking, writing, experiencing, doing, that we, the human race, or at least The Good Guys and Gals, decide to use Possibility Thinking for a better world for all of us. A healthier, saner, safer, kinder, more peaceful, restful, equitable world would be a nice “Instead Of” Outcome.
Though I am rather obsessed lately with the What If’s of the Future, we most often use this rhetorical device for thinking about the Past, and not the Present or Future. It’s human nature, after all to pick over the spoils and pick at the scabs incurred in our Pasts. And of course, it is vitally critical to look at the Past — or should I say, Pasts — plural. We have all gone egregiously and just stupidly wrong in not learning from our individual Pasts, our communal Pasts, and our national, religious, planetary, and world-wide Pasts. It is one of the things that elevates us as humans, this ability to change course, to envision something better, and yet we foolishly continue to so seldom use it. Rather than evolve by learning from past mistakes or last night’s sins, we so often choose to devolve into either helpless or stubborn beast-like creatures, chalking it all up to some other beastie’s problems or some innate inability in ourselves to grow and change. But being a human being was meant to be a glorious thing — a unique thing, a godlike thing. As human beings with souls, we are uniquely placed on this planet to live into the reality of “If-Then’s”. And therefore, when we go wrong, we can live into the miracle of “What If Instead Of this, We do that Instead’s?”. We can choose differently today than we did yesterday. We can regret. We can repent. We can hope. We can imagine. We can change. We can ask, What If we did this Instead Of that?
Now the “What If’s” are closer to home for many of us on a day to day basis now they seem to be more personal and more a very real matter of life and death. We don’t have to imagine quite so hard what it is like to walk in another person’s fragile, vulnerable shoes. We don’t have to try so hard to think what it is like to be afraid of going outside, of being imprisoned, or of not having enough money for the future or even the present day, or what it is like to work among dying patients in a war that makes no sense, or what it might be like to be very ill, afraid of dying and physically impaired in a world meant for only healthy people. Some of us don’t have to rely on memory alone any more or try to imagine what it is like to have pollution- free skies, or birds singing in the morning, or time to just be still and relax and rest. Some of us are finally experiencing a small sense of the prejudice and injustice that people of color have experienced their whole lives. Some of us are mourning over the senselessness and randomness of death.
Some of us are finding out the joys of the “Insteads”. We are finding that it is freeing to make do with less. That love starts at home but you have to be there to be part of it. We are discovering that creating things is vital for every human being and that everyone, no matter how faceless and nameless, matters deeply and intimately to each of us personally. A few of us may be realizing the “Instead-Reality” that we were meant for more — maybe it isn’t completely clear yet, but it is glimmering up ahead as a faint, dream-like Possibility. Most of us hopefully have some clue that instead of getting ahead for just me, myself, and I, Life is more fulfilling, and the Future more plausible, if we realize that we are all in This together.
And so, we may find ourselves asking, “What If we want things to be more like this in the Future?” What if I want to care more about others less fortunate than I, now that I have a better idea of what their lives have always been like? What if I want to help heal the planet from the outrageous things we’ve done to it? What if I want to work less and live more, and try to make sure that everyone has that same opportunity — to stop living for our work and start working so that we all might live — more equitably, more freely, more safely, and more joyfully? What if I want to spend more time in creative pursuits and supporting those who create art — whether it is on a stage, in a gallery, or in a garden? What if I want to spend more time outside in a world made for our enjoyment? What if I want to help protect the things in nature that before I have endangered? What if every day, I want to look at those I love and be more forgiving, more accepting, more understanding, and more selflessly helpful? What if everyone I love becomes Everyone? What if everyone I love includes you? And what if everyone I love includes myself — me?
What if I carry the lessons of the Past into Today to change myself in order to be a part of a better Future for the world? What if I become an “Instead Of”?
At this crossroads time in the history of humans, we are forced perhaps like never before in most of our lifetimes, to look backwards and wonder, “What If”. We ask it of the whole world: “What If they had done this Instead Of that?” We look at our leaders and weigh them in the balance of this equation. But it will never mean a thing if I am not asking the What If’s of myself. If we are at all honest and seek any kind of life of understanding or at least desire something better up ahead, we must look within our own hearts, our own minds, our own individual wills. We must peer with intention into the very essence of what makes us human — we must look within our souls. While we have been picking at the Past scars of What If’s that we can not change: — What if I hadn’t let Grandma go to work that day? What if I hadn’t gone to that birthday party where that woman was coughing all over the buffet table? What if Uncle Pete hadn’t gone to sing in the church choir that Sunday? — We must now let the scars heal over, and begin to seriously look at the “Instead Of’s” from here on out going forward. The What- If’s of our past choices should be given a very short shelf life. They are rather useless “what if’s” unless we can create a Time Machine and go back in Time to change them. (Let me know please, if you do. But I must warn you, I have a rather long list of changes I’d make.)
Some people spend a life-time on “What If’s”. What if I hadn’t married her? What if I had taken that job? What if I had majored in something else in college? What if I hadn’t gotten drunk? What if I had told him how I felt? What If’s can only change the Past-Self if we let it change for the better our Present-Self in order to grow into our best Future Self. We can evolve, we can be born again. That is the glory of our status as sentient, sensible souls. What If’s can pull us under with regret, remorse, anger, sorrow, lack of initiative, brokenness, and a host of other short-term and long-term emotions and ploys for convincing ourselves and others that change is impossible. Emotions without goals for change merely serve to sap our desire for a better life and deplete our energy for action. What If’s are only helpful if one understands that “though I didn’t know it then, I DO know it now”. What If’s are only helpful if you look at the Past and decide that Today, you will choose “Instead Of’s”.
If you grew up “back in the day”, when I did, with any sort of Biblical or Judeo-Christian Worldview, you have grown up to believe that every thing is, in fact, a “life or death” decision. Ideas like, “what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?”, or “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”, used to be the bedrock of a belief system that supposedly was based on a Savior who lived and died in such a way that the whole world might be changed for the better. Tragically, this isn’t at all a popular or wide-spread belief among the most vocal of those who claim this particular religion these days, so please don’t be fooled if you look to those who espouse a religion in name only, and not in deeds. Unlike what we hear today, the Judeo-Christian belief system was meant to be pretty much completely a religion of straight-up, unadulterated, no excuses, no holds barred — Love-First actions. I say that with a great amount of regret and repentance before God and other humans, for my own Past, a deepening humility for my Present lack of virtue, selfless love, wisdom and dearth of loving actions, and my plethora of selfish wrong-doings. I say it with a great desire for a Future that is definitely based on a lot of “What If’s”. What If — I can change — be reborn — starting today? What If — God is real? What If — human beings are meant to live most practically and healthfully when we love others as we love ourselves? What If — we were put here to care for a planet? What If — we will only keep our human souls alive if we make sure that the least and most struggling among us is as essential as the highest and most powerful? What If — Jesus was an example of what we all could be — Miraculous?
So Today, I look outside my window, and hear the little grey sparrows and the large black crows, and I say, “What If God’s eyes are on the sparrows and the crows, and what if I can trust that like a Mother Hen, She is watching over me?” What If I truly have nothing to lose by living in love for all others, by doing right and speaking truth, by choosing to do Good, by changing my worldview, my heart, and my actions, and by hoping and praying that the whole world might be “saved”? What If I have everything to lose if Instead Of that, I choose my freedom and rights over other people’s safety and health? What If I choose my will over their lives — “not Thy will but mine be done”? What If I choose my convenience over the planet’s safety and health, if I choose my pleasure over other people’s needs, if I choose to be right rather than righteous? What If I gain the whole enchilada, but piece by piece, day after selfish day, lose my soul?
Ah, hurrah, hurray, it’s another grand day! To be alive! To be alive to choice and change and chance! To be alive to the idea of being a better human being today than I was yesterday. What If — ah Glorious, Glory-ing thought! What If by believing whole heartedly in the lessons of the Past, by studying them deeply and with humility, I can change. What If by making less of me and more of others Today, there will be something of me Tomorrow? What If by loving others with heart and mind and will in the Present, I can save the very essence of who I was created to be, I can save my soul, and have more than a temporal happiness, have Instead, an eternal life of love, and light, and joy?
What If today instead of Death, I choose Resurrection?
What If my Future, and the Future of the Earth and the Human Beings that inhabit it could, Instead of This be……………? Imagine……
Wouldn’t that be Miraculous?