“It could have all turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.” Jane Austen in Mansfield Park
Jane Austen was a master at studying and communicating human nature through the written word. This one sentence speaks volumes to me, simply, because it quiets so many of the “would have, could have, should have been” thoughts that haunt us about past mistakes and missed opportunities. It is true, the smallest change in circumstances could have changed everything–but it didn’t and nothing is accomplished by wishing it had.
My grandma told me a story about my great-grandparents flipping a coin to decide whether they would move from Kansas to Colorado or Missouri. The coin landed on the Missouri side and so every generation following them also lived in Missouri. At the flip of a coin I could have been a Colorado girl, or perhaps, not been at all–but I am and I am a Missouri girl–nothing can change that, for better or worse.
The same is true when my husband and I were deciding where to live after we got married. I didn’t want to stay in Missouri and he didn’t want to stay in Maine so, on a whim, we chose Massachusetts. We could have chosen any place any where and everything could have turned out differently–but it didn’t. The whole of our married lives hinged on the not-very-well thought out whims of two 20 something year olds who knew nothing about the impact that decision would make–but it was made and it cannot now be unmade (and fortunately, it was not a mistake!).
Quite simply, we must not live our lives in the past, ever dwelling on how things could have turned out differently–if only. There is no “if only”; there is only today.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”