Two forks emerged in the rolling wood and the weary traveler sat upon a broken stump to consider his options. One way was canopied with thick arbors above and a narrow path below. While it looked pleasant, it was dark and uncertain. The other took an immediate turn and appeared to open into sunshine.
As he wiped the sweat from his brow, he studied the map given him when forced upon the journey. He knew there had been directions, but that was long ago and he had been under duress – so many voices, so much information. If truth be told, he had never in his life been one to listen well to others. This time he had tried, for the stakes were high. There was life and death in the balance so reckless he couldn’t be.
The map told him to follow the path through the woods. Yet he wasn’t certain. Was that the right way? He pondered until he heard the ravenous bark of the hounds. His pursuers were nearly upon him so he pulled himself up and followed the dark path under the trees.
The way was no easy fare. It brought roots and rocks that jumped up and pull his legs from beneath and branches that clubbed him from above. Every time he reached a lazy downhill stroll, a climb ensued – each hill steeper than the last until he found himself at the edge of a perilous cliff where the howling wind at his back threatened to push him into an endless abyss below.
Still he pushed, and fought, and kept moving; though he was uncertain and afraid.
And when he reached the other side having gone the way he was instructed, he hoped with all his might that his journey was ended. But the poor fool’s hopes were dashed as he held his lifeless babe in his arms.
Looking back over where he had come, he didn’t see mountain, cliff, or forest. He saw nothing but a long, murky valley that seemed to stretch on forever.
The Lonely Valley of Whatifs.
What if he had started sooner? What if he had taken a different path? What if he had pushed harder? Would the outcome have changed?
Every journey is marked by decisions – both easy and hard. The difficult decisions are made using the best information you have. In a perfect world, we could make those choices and move on. But that’s rarely the way life happens, is it?
We all enter The Valley.
For those whose path lead to sunny shores, the valley is short. Whatifs are only fleeting thoughts of perils that could have been.
But if, due to difficulties beyond your control or decisions you’ve made, your life has become less than you wanted, the Valley of Whatif stretches on like an endless bog. The earth gives way to dark mud that sucks us down further with every step. Early it covers only our shoes until we get weary and our feet grow heavy. Another step pulls us in to our knees, then slowly we are chest deep and sinking fast.
Tomorrow marks three years since we said goodbye to Kylie and I taste the mud. It cakes my ears and my nose until I hear nothing and can only smell its earthy, rich scent. I smell it like I remember the smell of the freshly dug earth on the hill where we laid her to rest. Regret is inescapable.
My head knows we did everything we could, but my heart will second guess until that day the earth covers me. The wind brings whispers of wounding questions. What if we had discovered the cancer sooner? What if we had chosen a different treatment? What if I had pushed harder or educated myself more? Would she be here if… If… IF…
There are no answers. The Lonely Valley of Whatif never yields answers and the even world’s finest mud tastes awful.
If you’re tasting mud of regret over something past like me, spit it out. I realize this is very cavalier advice whilst I still chew on my own mud. I intend to spit it out… someday. I would be lying if I said today was the day. Or especially tomorrow. It may take a thousand tomorrows and I doubt I’ll ever be able to remove the taste completely. But I refuse to allow the filthy swill of the past completely sully the tastes of the future.
I know Kylie wouldn’t want that.