These two little words pack a powerful punch.
For those who enjoy crafting fictional tales like I do, they provoke creativity. What if we make the protagonist a kleptomaniac? Or what if the killer is the mother? What if we set the story during the Renaissance?
For those who battle or have battled anxiety, (myself included), those two little words can send an anxious mind down a path to panic. What if that mole is cancerous? What if they die? What if I don’t have enough money saved for retirement?
For the “what might have been” crowd, the What if? question can be haunting. “What if I hadn’t gotten drunk, driven my car and injured that pedestrian? What if I hadn’t cheated on my girlfriend? What if I had chosen a different major?
For historians, these two little words spark debate. In fact, there is a series of books entitled What If? in which brilliant historians examine critical turning points in history and what the world would be like today. They explore such topics as: What if the Americans had lost the Revolutionary War? What if Lincoln had not freed the slave? What if the Russians hadn’t backed down during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Since we celebrate Veterans Day this month, I thought I’d share my little stroll down the historical What if? path. Although many men in my family have served in the armed forces including the Korean War and World War II, my family has been fortunate to lose only one life to war and that was my Will Moran, my paternal grandmother, Agnes Lane's older brother, who died in World War I.
I didn’t know much about Will except for seeing a few black and white photos of him in his Army uniform and a photo of his mother, my great-grandmother, on a ship sailing to France for Gold Star mothers to visit the graves of their fallen children.
As we began to dig a little deeper into Will’s life, we learned that he was killed near the end of the war at the Second Battle of the Marne in France. My son knows so much more about history than I do, and one of the history books he has stated that a young German soldier by the name of Adolf Hitler was on the front during that battle where Will perished. That got us to thinking: What if Hitler had died at that battle instead of Will? How different would our world have been? Would there have been a Second World War? Would six million Jews have died in the Holocaust? What would Europe be like today?
While the What Ifs are intriguing and thought provoking, they are futile. Although those two little words are powerful, two other words surpass them, and they are: What Is.
Reality is where life takes place and dealing with what is and what is real is where we can affect the most good. You can’t live in regret or fantasy or conjecture or what will never be. So, in life, there’s no going back, there’s only going forward.
Note: While researching this article, I recently learned that Will Moran was killed on July 19, 1918, and is buried at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France. He was also awarded a Purple Heart.
This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Northern Connection Magazine.